With an eye on assembly polls next year, the CM sets about bur­nish­ing his re­formist ad­min­is­tra­tor im­age

India Today - - STATES - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

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).


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

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