September 28, 2020

CM Nitish Kumar on back foot as Bihar Burns

PATNA: When Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U) president Nitish Kumar was being felicitated at a massive Ram Navami procession by senior BJP leaders in Patna, Arjit Shashwat was attending a similar procession in another part of the city around the same time.

It hardly mattered to the young BJP leader, who is Union minister Ashwini Choubey’s son and an accused in the Bhagalpur communal clashes case, that he was wanted by police.

Shashwat, against whom a court had issued an arrest warrant two days ago, not only moved freely but also gave interviews to the media, terming the FIR as “fabricated” and asking why no action was taken against “miscreants belonging to a particular community”.

The procession of BJP, RSS and Bajrang Dal workers that he had led in Bhagalpur’s Nathnagar on March 17 sparked communal clashes due to provocative slogans chanted by the participants. Stone-pelting and firing incidents had left 20 people, including six policemen, injured.

With at least seven more incidents of communal violence having taken place in different parts of Bihar since then and Shashwat yet to be arrested, Nitish Kumar is facing the heat.

Bihar’s main Opposition RJD and its ally Congress have viciously attacked him as a “spineless leader bending to BJP and RSS”. For the first time after he dramatically walked out of the ruling grand alliance and formed a new government in alliance with BJP in July 2017, Kumar finds himself in perhaps the most vulnerable situation in his political career.

Significantly, the communal clashes and a slew of inflammatory statements by BJP leaders preceding them came at a time when the recent bypoll results left BJP and JD(U) feeling uncertain about their future in Bihar.

BJP’s loss in Muslim-dominated Araria Lok Sabha constituency and JD(U)’s loss on Jehanabad Assembly seat, despite the two parties contesting in alliance, gave the impression of RJD’s resurgence.
The bypoll results also indicated that voters rejected Nitish’s alliance with BJP as the mandate in the 2015 Assembly polls was against the saffron party.

As more and more towns in Bihar come under the grip of communal tension and the main perpetrators with links to BJP and its affiliates evade arrest, the Bihar Chief Minister clearly faces the risk of losing his support base among Muslims. After all, he had snapped JD(U)’s 17-year-old alliance with BJP in June 2013 because of his discomfort with the saffron party’s overt pro-Hindutva makeover.
JD(U)’s rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls pushed him into arch-rival RJD’s arms during the 2015 Assembly polls and put him in his third term in power.

“I have ruled Bihar for over 12 years. I have never allowed any quarrel in society to get out of control and acquire a communal nature. I will never allow this to happen,” said Kumar at a public function on March 20.

Yet, six days later, when Aurangabad witnessed communal clashes for the second day, he was attacked by Opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav of RJD for saying in the Assembly that there was “no curfew and no firing incident” in the southern town. Yadav pointed out how Kumar made these statements after a prod from Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi of BJP sitting beside him.

If corruption was the reason Kumar had dumped RJD to ally with BJP, JD(U) sources said it is now a rise in communal passions that makes him think afresh about his ties with BJP.

“We realise we have few smart options before us, but that does not mean our leader will remain a puppet ruler of a state that now needs his leadership more than ever,” said one of Kumar’s close aides.

Courtesy: New Indian Express

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