Poor gov­er­nance and in­ac­tion on ter­ror take the sheen off a chief min­is­ter fight­ing for sur­vival

India Today - - NATION - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

Af­ter the blast, there was gas, a lot of it from Chief Min­is­ter Ni­tish Ku­mar. “We can’t rule out the ter­ror an­gle, but let’s not jump to con­clu­sions. Let the in­ves­ti­gat­ing agen­cies do their job,” he said. The Chief Min­is­ter was ad­dress­ing the press af­ter a se­ries of bomb blasts at the venue of Naren­dra Modi’s Gandhi Maidan rally in Patna on Oc­to­ber 27 killed six peo­ple and in­jured 83 oth­ers. The bombs missed Modi. But they blasted the myth of Ni­tish as a no-non­sense leader. His words only added to the im­pres­sion that the JD(U) leader was politi­cis­ing the ter­ror at­tack that ex­posed his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fail­ures.

One-and-a-half hours be­fore the se­rial blasts, an alert rail­way po­lice­man nabbed two ter­ror­ists with three live bombs from a pub­lic toi­let at Patna’s rail­way sta­tion. The two al­leged op­er­a­tives of the ter­ror­ist group In­dian Mu­jahideen ( IM) re­vealed the plot to the po­lice, who, how­ever, still failed to lo­cate and defuse the 15 bombs planted at the rally site, or warn the par­tic­i­pants. A stam­pede that could have killed many more was nar­rowly averted as nine of the bombs did not ex­plode. A day af­ter the blasts, Ni­tish ig­nored de­mands from se­cu­rity ex­perts, in­clud­ing for­mer home sec­re­tary R.K. Singh, on the need to fix re­spon­si­bil­ity, as that would have meant re­mov­ing his acolyte, Bi­har DGP Abhayanand.

In Novem­ber 2005, af­ter win­ning the state As­sem­bly elec­tions, Ni­tish did not waste a mo­ment. He fired his min­is­ter Ji­tan Ram Man­jhi only hours af­ter he had taken oath, when a con­tro­versy over Man­jhi’s in­volve­ment in a fake de­gree scam sur­faced. To­day, he prefers shift­ing the blame than ad­dress­ing the root of a prob­lem.

It is a spec­tac­u­lar fall for a Chief Min­is­ter who once de­liv­ered good roads and health fa­cil­i­ties and, most im­por­tantly, im­proved law and or­der in his first full term, that lasted till Novem­ber 2010. To­day, it is all about sur­vival, af­ter the BJP-JD(U) sep­a­rated. He heads a mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment that is de­pen­dent on four Congress MLAs and as many In­de­pen­dents for sur­vival.

Iron­i­cally, things have gone down­hill for Ni­tish since he parted ways with BJP. Gov­er­nance has suf­fered. The state is bat­tered by a shoot­ing crime rate, cor­rup­tion and in­ept han­dling of ad­min­is­tra­tive chal­lenges. In Au­gust, the state wit­nessed a com­mu­nal flare-up in Nawada and caste vi­o­lence in Sasaram, both re­sult­ing in deaths. There has also been an un­usu­ally high 18 com­mu­nal clashes recorded in just one month af­ter the BJP-JD(U) break-up.

Ni­tish set up a com­mis­sion to probe the po­lice fir­ing in Bagaha where eight trib­als were killed. But he handed over the probe into the Bodh Gaya se­rial blasts, the state’s first ever ter­ror at­tack in which two peo­ple were se­ri­ously in­jured, to NIA. He squarely blamed the prin­ci­pal for the July 17 deaths of 23 chil­dren who were poi­soned af­ter eat­ing mid-day meal at their school. He did not, how­ever, an­swer why it took seven hours to trans­port the dy­ing chil­dren to a hos­pi­tal in Patna.


Over the past few months, IM had made Bi­har both a sanc­tu­ary and a tar­get. Un­der Ni­tish, how­ever, Bi­har Po­lice has dis­played a marked re­luc­tance to take them head-on. At the heart of this re­luc­tance is his fear of los­ing Mus­lim votes in dis­tricts of north Bi­har. A se­nior IPS of­fi­cer, on his way to East Cham­paran to in­ter­ro­gate IM mas­ter­mind Yasin Bhatkal—caught by IB with state po­lice help in Au­gust—was told to abort his jour­ney mid­way. His bosses told him Bi­har would have noth­ing to do with the Bhatkal probe.

Bi­har Po­lice sub­se­quently handed over the in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Bodh Gaya blasts over to NIA, and also shied away from tak­ing credit for the ar­rest of Bhatkal, who, in his alias as the homeo­pathic doc­tor Imran, lived for years in Mad­hubani and Darb­hanga dis­tricts and set up a ter­ror mod­ule

with a dozen Mus­lim youth. “Any other po­lice force would have taken Bhatkal and his aide Haddi on remand, and probed their links to the state. But Bi­har Po­lice only made ex­cuses for not do­ing so,” says a se­nior IPS of­fi­cer.

At Modi’s Patna rally, se­cu­rity was lax and the bombers walked into the venue and planted their deadly IEDS. The state ig­nored in­tel­li­gence alerts based on Bhatkal’s in­ter­ro­ga­tion, which pointed to his un­der­study Tah­sim Akhtar, alias Monu, plan­ning fur­ther bomb at­tacks. Monu is be­lieved to be the mas­ter­mind be­hind the Oc­to­ber 27 Gandhi Maidan bomb­ings, and is now on the run.


Ni­tish be­gan his sec­ond full term as Bi­har chief min­is­ter in 2010 on a high. The BJP-JD(U) com­bine bet­tered its 2005 poll per­for­mance. It swept 206 of the 243 As­sem­bly seats and marginalised the RJD, LJP and Congress. Ni­tish im­me­di­ately in­tro­duced a se­ries of wel­fare schemes, such as a Right to Ser­vice Act to en­sure timely de­liv­ery of pub­lic serv-


ices, and abol­ished the much-abused dis­cre­tionary funds for MLAs.

The slide in his pop­u­lar­ity be­gan some­time in Septem­ber 2012, when 250,000 con­trac­tual school­teach­ers, un­happy at pay­ment dis­par­i­ties with their per­ma­nent coun­ter­parts, con­verted Ni­tish’s Ad­hikar Ya­tra into a plat­form for their protest. They waved black flags at the Chief Min­is­ter and stoned his con­voy in al­most all the dis­tricts he cov­ered. His gov­ern­ment gave in, and sanc­tioned a Rs 3,000-salary hike each for con­trac­tual school­teach­ers from Septem­ber 2013.

Some­time last year, Ni­tish be­gan cosy­ing up to the Cen­tre, with which he so­licited spe­cial sta­tus for Bi­har. The

UPA Gov­ern­ment, though, is yet to ac­cord any such sta­tus to the state.

Patna’s po­lit­i­cal cir­cles are agog with sug­ges­tions that while even now, the Chief Min­is­ter is des­per­ately seek­ing a face-saver from the Cen­tre in any form, Congress has de­manded a firm com­mit­ment of al­liance in the face of his dal­liance with the third front. It is be­ing sug­gested that Ni­tish had struck a deal with Congress to main­tain si­lence over the myr­iad scams and run­away in­fla­tion dur­ing UPA 2. “Ni­tish is beg­ging the Cen­tre to grant Bi­har spe­cial sta­tus so that he can gain stature among Bi­har’s politi­cians,” says Lok Jan­shakti Party’s Ram Vi­las Paswan. “But the peo­ple’s dis­il­lu­sion­ment with him can’t be re­versed, even if the state gets a few thou­sand crores,” he says.

Though Ni­tish has al­ways de­nied hav­ing any prime min­is­te­rial am­bi­tions, he seems to be os­cil­lat­ing be­tween Congress and a nascent third front, rid­ing both boats in the hope of switch­ing to the side that of­fers him the best deal.

On Oc­to­ber 30, he trig­gered spec­u­la­tion about join­ing non-Congress,

non- BJP par­ties in a third front, when he shared the dais with lead­ers of 14 par­ties at the Talkatora Sta­dium in New Delhi to par­tic­i­pate in a “Con­ven­tion for Peo­ple’s Unity Against Com­mu­nal­ism”, cob­bled to­gether by the Left. “We will have to think and unite against com­mu­nal­ism, ter­ror­ism and fas­cism,” he said. Sit­ting with Sa­ma­jwadi Party’s Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav, Ni­tish spoke of the need for JD(U) to work with “non-com­mu­nal par­ties”. This is the first de­ci­sive shift in his po­lit­i­cal stance since he started warm­ing up to Congress on the eve of his Novem­ber 2012 Ad­hikar Ya­tra that he had launched to de­mand spe­cial sta­tus for Bi­har.

“Ni­tish waited for al­most a year for an eco­nomic pack­age from the UPA Gov­ern­ment be­fore he started veer­ing to­wards a non-ex­is­tent third front. This is noth­ing but a re­flec­tion of his in­se­cu­rity, as he knows he does not have enough el­i­gi­ble can­di­dates for all 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state,” says Bi­har BJP leader Sushil Ku­mar Modi.

Ni­tish’s nu­anced pref­er­ence for a third front over Congress may have been prompted by a be­lated re­al­i­sa­tion that the grand old party was just bag­gage in Bi­har. With two MPs and four MLAs, Congress does not have any elec­toral strength to back Ni­tish.

Ac­cord­ing to Ni­tish’s cal­cu­la­tions, the third front may not have much leg­isla­tive strength in Bi­har, but they have nei­ther the bag­gage of cor­rup­tion that UPA 2 bears, nor will he have to fight the sim­mer­ing pub­lic anger against run­away in­fla­tion.

Be­sides, join­ing a third front—if it does take shape—might help him use the ser­vices of Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav, another icon of sec­u­lar­ism, as a handy counter against a resur­gent Lalu Prasad Ya­dav and his RJD.

To top it all, JD(U) na­tional Pres­i­dent Sharad Ya­dav’s ve­he­ment op­po­si­tion to Congress is a big im­ped­i­ment in a pact with the grand old party. Ni­tish’s erst­while “yes” man, he has started flex­ing his mus­cle. In July, he dropped Shiva- nand Tiwari from the twin posts of party gen­eral sec­re­tary and spokesper­son, ap­par­ently with­out con­sult­ing Ni­tish. In the run-up to the polls, Ni­tish can­not af­ford to ig­nore Sharad, in a state where vot­ers from his Ya­dav caste form the sin­gle-largest group.


Oc­to­ber’s se­rial blasts may have taken the sheen off Ni­tish’s im­age as an able ad­min­is­tra­tor, but they are the least of his wor­ries. In June, he roped in four in­de­pen­dent MLAs and as many from the Congress to achieve a sim­ple ma­jor­ity in the 243-mem­ber state As­sem­bly, even though he did not ex­pand his Cab­i­net fear­ing a back­lash from min­is­te­rial as­pi­rants.

His de­trac­tors within JD(U) have sensed this as his weak­ness. At the party’s strat­egy ses­sion that he ad­dressed on Oc­to­ber 29, JD(U) Ra­jya Sabha mem­ber Shivanand Tewari praised Naren­dra Modi, while Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Naren­dra Singh ac­cused Nit-

ish of be­ing sur­rounded by bu­reau­crats, dar­ing the Chief Min­is­ter to sack him dur­ing the meet. There was no re­sponse from the man who, since June, has been the coun­try’s most over­bur­dened chief min­is­ter. Ni­tish now holds 18 port­fo­lios, in­clud­ing roads and con­struc­tion, fi­nance, health and tourism, in ad­di­tion to the home and per­son­nel port­fo­lios he al­ready held. “He has taken on an im­pos­si­ble-to-ful­fil work­load,” says a se­nior IAS of­fi­cer.

In Au­gust, Ni­tish al­lowed two of his min­is­ters, Bheem Singh and Naren­dra Singh, to con­tinue in his Cab­i­net, de­spite their in­sen­si­tive com­ments on the killing of five In­dian sol­diers on the Line of Con­trol with Pak­istan. Bheem Singh had said that “sol­diers join the In­dian Army to be mar­tyred” while Naren­dra Singh called Pak­istan “In­dia’s younger brother”, de­scrib­ing the in­ci­dent an act of ex­trem­ists, over whom Pak­istan has no con­trol.

At his Gandhi Maidan rally, Naren­dra Modi called for “such sin­ners to be pun­ished”. On Oc­to­ber 31, Rev­enue


Min­is­ter Ra­mai Ram once again re­peated a de­mand for his can­di­da­ture to con­test in the Lok Sabha elec­tion from Hajipur, now held by JD(U)’S Ram­sun­dar Das. Such open dis­sent would have been un­think­able even a few months ago.

Worse, Ni­tish has to reckon with a born-again BJP that has turned the heat on him like never be­fore. With 91 mem­bers in the As­sem­bly, BJP is woo­ing his core vote bank of Ex­tremely Back­ward Castes ( EBCS) and Ma­hadal­its.

Much to Ni­tish’s cha­grin, Modi is be­ing pro­jected as an EBC leader in Bi­har. His old bete noire, RJD, has not just sur­vived Lalu Prasad Ya­dav’s con­vic­tion and ar­rest in the fod­der scam and his dis­missal from the Lok Sabha, it has grown at JD(U)’s ex­pense.

Two JD(U) Lok Sabha MPs, Pur­na­masi Ram and Man­gali Lal Man­dal, have openly praised Lalu, drop­ping enough hints of their plan to join RJD, while JD(U) Lok Sabha MP Vidya Sa­gar Nishad and MLA Ch­hedi Paswan have met Naren­dra Modi in Au­gust and Septem­ber re­spec­tively, mak­ing clear their in­ten­tions of quit­ting JD(U) for BJP.

Shortly af­ter he an­nounced the break with BJP in June this year, Ni­tish Ku­mar told his Cab­i­net col­leagues that he had teamed up with the party only to oust Lalu. “When you need to ex­tin­guish a big fire, you don’t think about the qual­ity of wa­ter you are us­ing to douse it,” he told them. “You use ev­ery­thing that you can to put it out.”

Bi­har cer­tainly needs a fire­fighter, but Ni­tish may not be the one.



M ZHAZO/­di­a­to­day­im­


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