HIS ABLE DEPUTY

FREED FROM HIS UN­COM­FORT­ABLE AL­LIANCE WITH THE RJD, NI­TISH BREATHES EASY IN THE COM­PANY OF HIS OLD DEPUTY

India Today - - NATION | BIHAR - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

Afort­night af­ter he took leave of the ma­ha­gath­band­han and took oath as the chief min­is­ter of Bi­har in the com­pany of the BJP, Ni­tish Ku­mar dropped in at an or­gan do­na­tion camp on Au­gust 13 or­gan­ised by the Dad­hichi Deh Dan Samiti (DDDS). As he reg­is­tered him­self as an or­gan donor and pledged his eyes on the oc­ca­sion, stand­ing by his side was the pa­tron of the non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion. It was none other than the new deputy chief min­is­ter of Bi­har—Sushil Modi.

The Ni­tish-Sushil part­ner­ship goes back a long way, from the time Sushil was a stu­dent at the Patna Sci­ence Col­lege and Ni­tish was study­ing at the Bi­har Col­lege of En­gi­neer­ing. Both bright stu­dents, Ni­tish cleared his elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer­ing ex­am­i­na­tions suc­cess­fully and Sushil ranked sec­ond in the uni­ver­sity in botany. “Clearly, both were stu­dious,” says a se­nior IAS of­fi­cer in Patna. “Some­thing they have car­ried into their ap­proach in gov­ern­ment. They read ev­ery word on the files.”

Both also be­gan their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers in Patna, as stu­dent lead­ers in Jayaprakash Narayan’s To­tal Revo­lu­tion move­ment of 1974. Sushil be­came Ni­tish’s deputy in Novem­ber 2005 and re­mained so till June 2013, when the lat­ter parted ways with the BJP over Naren­dra Modi lead­ing the prime min­is­te­rial cam­paign in the 2014 Lok Sabha elec­tions. But even as he ditched the BJP, Ni­tish did not let it af­fect his re­la­tion­ship with Sushil. In Fe­bru­ary 2015, when he evicted Ji­tan Ram Man­jhi and re­turned as chief min­is­ter, he took Sushil, his for­mer deputy, in a tight em­brace at his oath-tak­ing cer­e­mony. “Aise hi chalega (should we con­tinue this way)?” he asked. Once again, in Novem­ber 2015, when he took oath af­ter his re­sound­ing vic­tory in Bi­har, he told Sushil how much he missed his pres­ence in the gov­ern­ment.

So, when he got the op­por­tu­nity, Sushil or­ches­trated Ni­tish’s re­turn to the BJP fold. He had any­way been chip­ping at the RJD-JD(U) com­bine by tar­get­ing Lalu and his fam­ily (but never Ni­tish). Sens­ing Ni­tish’s grow­ing dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the RJD, Sushil man­aged to con­vince Naren­dra Modi and Amit Shah to woo him back.

“Now that we have started again,” Sushil told in­dia to­day, “it is like we had never sep­a­rated. Our al­liance is nat­u­ral, our gov­er­nance style is in sync with each other and, our man­ner of func­tion­ing—dead­line-driven and fo­cused—com­ple­ment each other.” The ef­fect is show­ing. Cabi­net meet­ings, for one, say se­nior min­is­ters in the gov­ern­ment, have be­come live­lier. In the last few days of his al­liance with the RJD, Ni­tish would con­stantly ap­pear grim. “Now Ni­tishji fre­quently smiles dur­ing cabi­net meet­ings,” says a min­is­ter, “and also cracks a joke or two.”

This is the first time in two decades that the same al­liance is in power at the Cen­tre and in the state. The last time this hap­pened was in 1997 when Lalu ruled Bi­har and In­der Ku­mar Gu­jral was head­ing a Janata Dal gov­ern­ment in New Delhi. Yet, the dy­nam­ics in the state have changed. In his ear­lier al­liance with the BJP, Ni­tish had the dis­cernible up­per hand in both gov­er­nance and pol­i­tics. From bag­ging a higher share of Ra­jya Sabha seats (four of six) to con­test­ing a larger num­ber of Lok Sabha and as­sem­bly (141 in 2010) seats, it was he who was in the driver’s seat.

Cut to now...

This time around, while Ni­tish may still call the shots when it comes to gov­er­nance in the state—the gen­eral ad­min­is­tra­tion and home de­part­ments are still un­der him, and the chief min­is­ter has di­rect con­trol over IAS and IPS of­fi­cers—the Modi-Shah-led BJP has be­come more as­sertive when it comes to tak­ing po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions for the al­liance.

The com­po­si­tion of the new state cabi­net re­veals as much. Of the to­tal 29 mem­bers, in­clud­ing the chief min­is­ter, though the JD(U) still has the larger share at 15 min­is­ters, the BJP has 13 (one more than what the RJD had in the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment), with one berth go­ing to the LJP. When the JD(U) and BJP last formed a gov­ern­ment in coali­tion, in 2010, the lat­ter had 11 min­is­ters though it had 91 legislators then in the as­sem­bly as against the present strength of 53. In the first JD(U)BJP coali­tion gov­ern­ment—from 2005 to 2010—the saf­fron party had seven min­is­ters among its 55 legislators. Clearly, then, the BJP has gained in terms of cabi­net rep­re­sen­ta­tion over the years.

As for the Lok Sabha elec­tions, when the BJP-JD(U) last con­tested to­gether in 2009, the JD(U) had fielded 25 can­di­dates against the BJP’s 15. The equa­tion, how­ever, changed dras­ti­cally in 2014. Now the BJP has 22 sit­ting MPs from Bi­har in the Lok Sabha while Ni­tish has only two. For 2019, there­fore, the BJP will have a greater say in ticket dis­tri­bu­tion. In fact, when BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah sum­moned core team mem­bers of the Bi­har BJP last week and asked them to cam­paign ag­gres­sively and strengthen the party down to the booth level so that it would win all 40 Lok Sabha seats on its own steam, it was largely seen as a move to marginalise Ni­tish. It was Sushil again who lost no time tweet­ing that there had been no dis­cus­sion on seat-shar­ing at the core group meet­ing, per­haps in a bid to re­as­sure Ni­tish.

There are other chal­lenges as well. As Sushil him­self puts it, “The big­gest chal­lenge this time is peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions. When we first started out in 2005, Bi­har had been left with a non-func­tional set-up. There were no tar­gets, no dead­lines for bu­reau­crats and no sys­tem in

place to de­liver at the grass­roots level. In the next eight years, our gov­ern­ment put a sys­tem in place, re­cruited staff and mon­i­tored them closely. Bu­reau­crats were aligned to the new vi­sion and goals.” In­deed, Ni­tish and Sushil were seen as the ar­chi­tects of Bi­har’s turn­around at the time. While Ni­tish fo­cused on creat­ing a new vi­sion for Bi­har and de­liv­er­ing good gov­er­nance, Sushil con­cen­trated on ad­min­is­tra­tion and fis­cal man­age­ment.

Now, how­ever, Sushil says, “It is time to take a big jump for­ward as in­cre­men­tal progress will not sat­isfy the peo­ple.” The state’s plan size, he says, was Rs 4,379 crore in 2005 (when the Ni­tish-Modi part­ner­ship be­gan). It was Rs 72,419 crore in 2016-17, ac­cord­ing to the state eco­nomic sur­vey for this year. The to­tal plan and non-plan ex­pen­di­ture is close to 1.5 lakh crore in 2016-17. In the five-year pe­riod be­tween 2004–2005 and 2008–09, Bi­har’s GDP grew by 11.03 per cent, which made it the sec­ond fastest grow­ing econ­omy in In­dia in that pe­riod af­ter Gu­jarat, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Sta­tis­tics Or­gan­i­sa­tion. Bi­har’s growth rate of 7.6 per cent in the medium term (2011-12 to 2016-17) is bet­ter than the na­tional av­er­age of 6.8 per cent. The state’s GDP at the end of Lalu’s reign in 2004-05 was Rs 77,781 crore. It went up to Rs 82,490 crore the year Ni­tish took over. When he parted ways with the BJP in 2013, the GSDP stood at Rs 3,43,663 crore in 2013-14. The GSDP for 2015-16 was Rs 4,13,503 crore.

Hav­ing brought Bi­har thus far, the Ni­tish-Sushil com­bine will have to think ahead in their sec­ond in­nings, Good gov­er­nance is still top pri­or­ity. In suc­ces­sive meet­ings, first with the vig­i­lance de­part­ment on Septem­ber 19 and then with the po­lice brass two days later, Ni­tish told the of­fi­cers to shape up or ship out. The CM even com­pared crime data from Jan­uary to Au­gust this year with the same pe­riod last year and asked cops pointed ques­tions, says a po­lice of­fi­cer. Clearly, with the RJD, now the prin­ci­pal op­po­si­tion party, ac­cus­ing him of ma­nip­u­lat­ing the 2015 man­date, Ni­tish has his task cut out.

“Still,” as the IAS of­fi­cer in Patna says, “th­ese are early days for Ni­tish and Sushil. It’s just been two months. It’s too lit­tle time for the duo to script sweep­ing changes, es­pe­cially when they have had to grap­ple with floods and the Sri­jan scam at the start of their stint. How­ever, the dili­gence with which both work and the knowl­edge that Sushil Modi brings to gov­er­nance, their lead­er­ship will give the state some mean­ing­ful di­rec­tion.”

For in­stance, even be­fore the CBI probe was or­dered into the Sri­jan scam, in which Rs 1,300 crore worth of gov­ern­ment funds were si­phoned off by the Bha­galpur-based NGO Mahila Sahyog Samiti, Sushil, who re­tains the fi­nance port­fo­lio, told prin­ci­pal sec­re­taries, com­mis­sion­ers and district mag­is­trates to up­date all gov­ern­ment ac­counts and sub­mit monthly updates to the fi­nance de­part­ment. A ded­i­cated desk at the de­part­ment will rec­on­cile the flow of all funds.

“The dif­fer­ence that Sushil Modi brings to the Ni­tish gov­ern­ment can be un­der­stood fully only if we re­view this regime in the back­drop of the gov­ern­ment Ni­tish ran with Lalu’s RJD,” adds the IAS of­fi­cial. Ac­cord­ing to him, Ni­tish and Lalu were never on the same page; the for­mer was a stick­ler for rules and pro­bity, the other was about “im­promptu sparks”. From call­ing Sha­habud­din in jail, let­ting a rape ac­cused RJD MLA visit him at his of­fi­cial res­i­dence to in­struct­ing a po­lice in­spec­tor di­rectly about a crim­i­nal case, Lalu made Ni­tish un­com­fort­able on more than one oc­ca­sion. The civil sur­geon of Darb­hanga even is­sued a let­ter quot­ing Lalu’s ver­bal in­struc­tion to re­in­state a few con­trac­tual work­ers, the of­fi­cial adds. “In March, an RJD min­is­ter was ac­cused of vis­it­ing a di­a­mond cut­ting and pol­ish­ing unit in Patna to pres­surise them. The unit had stopped pro­duc­tion af­ter the min­is­ter’s visit. To­day, in the BJP’s com­pany, Ni­tish is as­sured that no min­is­ter will do any­thing to em­bar­rass the gov­ern­ment.”

“Though the com­pul­sion of coali­tion pol­i­tics kept Ni­tish quiet for a long time, he was never com­fort­able in Lalu’s com­pany. Sushil’s in­duc­tion into the gov­ern­ment has brought more or­der to the process of gov­er­nance,” says a district mag­is­trate. An as­sess­ment a JD(U) leader con­curs with: “The al­liance with the RJD gone, gov­er­nance will be more or­derly.”

The road ahead

The two men are al­ready look­ing at op­por­tu­ni­ties to make Bi­har bet­ter. In Hy­der­abad to at­tend a meet­ing of the GST coun­cil in the sec­ond week of Septem­ber, Sushil ex­tended his stay to study a few de­vel­op­ment mod­els in Andhra Pradesh and Te­lan­gana. Hav­ing seen CCTV cam­eras ev­ery­where in Hy­der­abad and an in­no­va­tive land com­pen­sa­tion pack­age in Te­lan­gana, Sushil dis­cussed both ideas with Ni­tish. Im­pressed, the CM asked for some more re­search on the sub­ject. His re­turn to the BJP may be the end of his prime min­is­te­rial am­bi­tions, but if there’s one thing Ni­tish could be happy about, it’s the re­turn of his bestie.

Mak­ing Bi­har bet­ter will be a pri­or­ity for Ni­tish-Sushil. The CM has cracked the whip on po­lice of­fi­cials in the state, Sushil is com­ing up with new ideas

AFTAB ALAM SID­DIQUI

JODI NO. 1 The Ni­tish-Modi ca­ma­raderie at work

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