NOW 2020 IN HIS SIGHTS
With an eye on assembly polls next year, the CM sets about burnishing his reformist administrator image
It was business as usual for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar as he returned to Patna on May 31 after attending the Narendra Modi government’s swearing-in. Nitish headed to his office for a cabinet meeting where, among other things, he okayed the dismissal of an undersecretary-rank officer who had been caught taking a bribe back in October 2006. In the ensuing 13 years, the officer, Anil Kumar Jha, was suspended twice but had also secured several postings. Nitish was in no mood to let the case drag on.
In another cabinet meeting on June 11, he approved a proposal to legislate non-bailable jail terms for those who abandoned their elderly parents. Three days later, Nitish announced a pension scheme for the poor. A series of such big decisions within a fortnight suggests the Bihar CM is determined to build on the Janata Dal (United)’s impressive showing in the Lok Sabha election—16 seats out of the 17 contested—with an eye on the 2020 assembly election. “The Lok Sabha election was not even half the battle. Our real war is the assembly election next year,” says a JD(U) leader who didn’t want to be named. “Nitish isn’t one to be complacent; he’ll want to make it four assembly elections in a row.”
To that end, Nitish is adeptly juggling politics and governance. If he has inducted eight handpicked party leaders into his cabinet on June 2 to cater to his political constituencies, he is also pushing the administration to show results. For instance, at a performance review of the police on June 7, the first since the Lok Sabha election was announced in March, the chief minister told top police officials: “Hum aap logon ko chhodne wale nahin hain (I will not spare you people).”
A source close to Nitish says he expressed deep dissatisfaction over the failure of the police to control the spiralling crime in the state despite the much-improved facilities since he first assumed power in November 2005. “The chief minister was extremely unhappy that over 140,000 criminal cases were pending across the state and wanted these disposed of on priority,” the source says. Three days later, 17 IPS officers, including seven superintendents of police, were transferred. Nitish’s decision to review law and order again on June 25 has left police officials in a bind. The chief minister has his work cut out on other fronts too. The encephalitis breakout in Muzaffarpur, where over a 110 children have already lost their lives, is not going to reflect well on his government (see Upfront, pg. 13).
NITISH WARNED TOP POLICE OFFICIALS OF ACTION IF RISING CRIME WASN’T CURBED
On June 15, addressing the NITI Aayog meeting in New Delhi, Nitish demanded that centrally sponsored schemes not be imposed on the states and they be allowed to prepare their own welfare programmes. Nitish also said the Centre had used the increase in the states’ share of net taxes to 42 per cent from 32 per cent—as per the 14th Finance Commission recommendations— as an excuse to massively cut budgetary allocations to states.
He questioned why the Centre had reduced its financial burden for centrally sponsored schemes from 75-90 per cent to 60 per cent—and even 50 per cent for some schemes. This, he said, had forced Bihar to spend Rs 4,500 crore in 2015-16, Rs 4,900 crore in 2016-17, Rs 15,335 crore in 2017-18 and Rs 21,396 crore in 2018-19 from its resources on central schemes. Nitish’s remarks are being seen as an open criticism of the Modi government, which had introduced the funding changes in its previous tenure.
SUPPORT BASE Nitish Kumar inaugurates the old age pension scheme in Patna