Nothing exemplifies the hollowness of the Bihar government’s tall claims about good governance and development than its decision to return Rs five crore to Gujarat, which the latter donated 22 months ago, that is, only a few days after the Kosi deluge of August 2008.
This move of Nitish Kumar has raised several very pertinent questions: Had any state government the right to accuse the Centre of not giving enough in the hour of crisis when it could not spend paltry Rs five crore on the hapless victims even after almost two years?
It is not that the Bihar government simply returned the amount to Gujarat. The manner in which it did so is all the more shocking. First the chief minister publicly stated that he would see to it whether the amount sent by the Narendra Modi government has been spent or not; if not, it would be returned. And on June 19, that is a week later, the disaster management minister in his government, Divesh Chandra Thakur, said the money has been “lying unspent” since 2008 when river Kosi devastated vast area in half a dozen districts. How and why was the amount “lying unspent”? Was there a plan to make a political issue out of it in the future? And is it that the donations of different states and individuals were kept separately?
The whole exercise raised a very serious issue for political scientists and economists to discuss – not for mediapersons as most of them have been purchased by the state government.
Can a democratic state be run like despotic monarch? In democracy it is the cabinet, which takes collective decision with the Prime Minister or Chief Minister as the leader of the team.
In this case on June 12 Nitish Kumar, in a fit of anger over publication of his old photo with Narendra Modi, took the decision and even his cabinet colleagues were not informed. And on June 19 the amount was ultimately returned.
The whole drama, as mentioned above, started on June 12 when the two-day National Executive of the BJP started in Patna. Nitish Kumar made Narendra Modi and the former deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani state guests though several other BJP chief ministers and all the party bigwigs were present in Bihar’s capital on the occasion; all of them were put up at the venue, the Maurya Hotel, by the BJP.
The same June 12 evening all the top BJP leaders, including of course Narendra Modi, were invited for dinner by none else than Nitish Kumar himself. In return it was announced by the BJP that Nitish would be attending the June 13 public rally of the BJP.
So far so good. But suddenly in the morning of June 12 Nitish became furious over an advertisement appearing in newspapers in Bihar. It carried a photo of smiling Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi hand-in-hand during an NDA rally in Ludhiana. This photo was taken on May 11, 2009 just before the result of the last Lok Sabha elections. It was published in all the newspapers and beamed on various television channels. The advertisement also mentioned as to how during the time of Kosi flood the government of Gujarat gave an aid of Rs five crore to Bihar.
The enraged Nitish the same afternoon cancelled the dinner party and called for the legal action against those who published the advertisement. The same evening raids were carried out in the office of the advertisement agency in Patna.
The BJP was taken by complete surprise and that too at the height of its such an important National Executive meet, being held for the first time after a gap of 16 long years. The party reacted coolly. It allowed some of its loud-mouthed leaders like Vinay Katiyar, Rameshwar Chaurasia and Giriraj Singh, minister in the Bihar government, to criticise the action of Nitish Kumar. But the senior leaders reacted in a matured way and did not touch the issue in the public rally. Only Advani, while delivering his speech, said that such minor issues do crop up in alliances and would soon be sorted out.
The Hindutva party played down the whole episode. Then came the reaction of the Janata Dal United chief Sharad Yadav who said that the dispute is over and the alliance with the BJP will continue.
But the June 19 move of Nitish Kumar to finally return the amount flummoxed even the most ardent supporter of Nitish in the BJP – the deputy chief minister, Sushil Kumar Modi. He refused to accompany the chief minister in his Vishwas Yatra – a two-month long tour of all the districts of the state.
Political observers who till now have been dubbing the whole drama as shadow-boxing between the two alliance partners started suspecting that the friendship is on the breaking point.
The opposition parties alleged that Nitish Kumar is being reminded of the BJP and Narendra Modi on the eve of the state assembly election due in October. If Nitish is really so serious about his secular image, he should have resigned from the Vajpayee cabinet after the Godhra incident. Not only the opposition RJD, but even the BJP leaders are now saying that Nitish Kumar was the railway minister when the Godhra incident took place. And who is not aware of the fact that no probe took place of what actually happened outside Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002. It was only when Lalu Prasad became the railway minister that Justice Banerjee was appointed to inquire into the matter. And it was he who in January 2005 submitted its report and made it public as to what actually took place on that day which sparked off the Gujarat riots.
Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar have met on a number of occasions after that infamous two-month long bloodbath of Muslims and the latter never condemned the BJP for its involvement in the massacre of Muslims. The BJP leaders now argue that there is no need to take permission from Nitish for the already published photo, which is now a public property. It remains a mystery as to why Nitish did not react when the photo was actually published 13 months ago.
There is no denying the fact that the Janata Dal (United), earlier known as Samata Party, is the first secular party to join hands with the BJP, in the immediate post-Babri Masjid demolition years, way back in 1995 and contested Lok Sabha election of March 1996 in alliance with it. The BJP was a political pariah but George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar played a very important role in providing secular legitimacy to it. Till then only Shiv Sena and Akali Dal – they are not secular outfits – were in alliance with the BJP.
In return the BJP, which needed a backward face in Bihar, did everything to promote, project and nurture Nitish. Its cadres used to man booths, muster votes and organise public meetings for the Janata Dal United till 2005 when he became the chief minister.
The BJP leaders are now openly accusing Nitish of betraying them after 15 long years. They may be right. But they too should be aware of the fact that Nitish did exactly the same with Lalu Prasad when he had deserted the latter in June 1994. Then the BJP people were all praise for him.
Whether the alliance breaks or continues is no more an issue. The whole drama is being enacted keeping in mind the Muslim vote-bank. But the truth is that Nitish never needed Muslim votes to win 2005 assembly election and even 2009 Lok Sabha election. Why is he so serious now? Obviously because he lost a huge Hindu upper caste votes following his move to empower the agriculture sharecroppers. He wants to compensate them with the Muslims.
Muslims are closely observing the whole development. Can a man who in the past ditched Lalu Prasad, the upper caste voters and the BJP be trusted?