Nitish Kumar took oath for the seventh time as Bihar chief minister on Monday. Twelve other ministers, five each from BJP and Janata Dal (United) and one each from smaller allies, HAM and VIP, took oath at a swearing-in ceremony in Patna. This is a team not picked up by its captain, but a team selected by allies and handed over to the captain.
On the face of it, everything looked cool, but beneath the surface, there were many questions. The first: why was Sushil Kumar Modi, who had always been deputy CM to Nitish Kumar, left out? Speculations are still rife about his future. For the first time, BJP is the bigger party and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) is a junior partner. Questions are being raised whether Nitish Kumar will have to work under constraints.
Barring one, BJP has picked up all new faces in the ministry. The question arises: what will happen to the experienced leaders in Bihar BJP? On his part, Nitish Kumar has retained old faces as his ministers, and the question is: what will happen to the new crop of leaders in his party?
This is 69-year-old Nitish Kumar’s last innings as chief minister. On Monday, all eyes were on BJP’s two deputy chief ministers Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, who were sitting on either side of the CM on the dais. They have jointly replaced the former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi, who till now, was a trusted deputy CM of Nitish Kumar and was the main channel of communication between Nitish Kumar and the BJP. After the ceremony, Nitish Kumar was asked whether he feels constrained now, his reply was: “The people have given us the responsibility. We will fulfil it.”
Nitish Kumar is a man of few words and he always speaks carefully. He did not reply to questions about Sushil Kumar Modi. The BJP leadership has kept Sushil Modi away from the state government, but the two persons picked as deputy CMs in his place are said to be his proteges.
Sixty-four-year-old Tarkishore Prasad, belonging to the same Vaishya caste as Sushil Modi, is an old RSS loyalist who has won from Katihar constituency four times. A grassroots level leader, he comes from an areas that adjoins West Bengal. Obviously, the party leadership has the West Bengal elections due next year in mind.
Renu Devi, a former insurance agent, belongs to the Nonia caste, an extremely backward class. She joined the Durga Vahini of Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1991, when the then CM Lalu Prasad Yadav stopped L K Advani’s rathyatra and arrested him in Samastipur. Later, she joined the BJP and became one of the front rank female leaders. By making her the deputy CM, the party leadership wants to thank women voters who supported the NDA this time.
The message is clear: BJP wants to develop a new leadership in Bihar replacing Sushil Modi. Since Nitish Kumar has already announced that this is his last election, BJP has realized that it would have to fight the 2025 assembly elections alone without depending on any major ally. The central leaders of BJP want the state unit to utilize these five years to develop a strong frontline leadership.
Secondly, the Janatal Dal(U) will have to decide about who will replace Nitish Kumar as successor after five years. With this objective, Nitish has kept caste equations in mind while picking up ministers in his own party. Among them are Vijay Chaudhary, Ashok Chowdhary and Mewalal Chaudhary.
Vijay Chaudhary, one of the closest confidantes of Nitish Kumar, is a Bhumihar and was Speaker in the last assembly. Ashok Chowdhary who left Congress to join JD(U) is a Dalit (Pasi community) and is Nitish’s right hand. Mewalal Chaudhary belongs to the OBC Kushwaha community and is being projected as a counter to Upendra Kushwaha, whose party fared poorly this time.
Sheila Mandal, who was a housewife till last year, was given a party ticket for the first time, and has been made minister. By making her a minister, Nitish wants to thank the women voters who supported him for banning sale of liquor in the state.
Both the BJP and JD(U) are trying to groom their state leaderships for the next five years. This is in complete contrast to Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, which is banking on a single individual and his family. Tejashwi, his party and all other allies of Mahagathbandhan on Monday boycotted the swearing-in ceremony, alleging what they called ‘betrayal of people’s mandate, which was changed by fraud’.
I feel Tejashwi Yadav should not have boycotted the oath taking ceremony. He should have shown a large heart and a sense of maturity. Victory and defeat are a part of democracy, but personal differences should not lead to personal enmity.
As the leader of 110-strong Mahagathbandhan in the assembly, Tejashwi Yadav has an onerous responsibility before him. As leader of opposition, Tejashwi must point out lapses in the functioning of the government and its policies. His thoughts and ideas should be on a wider level. Tejashwi is only 31 years old and he has a long way to go. He should take his responsibility as opposition leader seriously. He should also take a lesson from those leaders who are in opposition, but do not take their responsibility seriously. Rahul Gandhi is one of them.
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