Bihar: BJP, JD(U) set for a war of sops ahead of Assembly polls

Patna: With months to go for the assembly election, the BJP and the JD(U) are already set for a war of sops. While the BJP is ready to make a ‘big’ announcement which will be its singular talking point in the elections, the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) has started reaching out to the masses through populist measures.

The Modi government’s big announcement could be either granting a special financial package or special category status to the state. “We are working on assisting Bihar. If you wait for a few weeks, you may hear something from the central government with regard to Bihar,” Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said last week, adding “The government of India will go all out to support Bihar in a big way”.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. PTI

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. PTI

Apparently, in a bid to pre-empt the BJP’s plan, Nitish has now gone all out to announce populist steps even though the state’s financial condition may be too weak to support them. The slew of populist measures is not limited to any particular caste or class but for all sections of the society—from homeless poor and debt-ridden farmers to low-paid government employees earlier appointed on contractual basis by his government.

Some of his announcements which deserve mention here include granting 50 percent reservations to SC/ST, OBC, economically backward castes, and backward caste women in all government contracts up to Rs 15 lakh, doing away with the mandatory 75 percent attendance of students in schools to avail the benefits of the merit scholarship, cycle and uniform scheme, one month extra salary to policemen as ‘honorarium’, giving five dismal of homestead lands to the landless poor, forming a committee to regularize services of more than four lakh school teachers appointed on contracts and granting Rs 10,000 as incentive to the economically poor students from upper castes who pass the matriculation examination in first divisions from government schools.

Significantly, all these decisions now cleared by the Bihar chief minister were part of the total 34 populist cabinet decisions earlier taken by the previous Jitan Manjhi government. One of the first steps that Nitish had taken after coming back to power was to scrap all these decisions taken by his predecessor. They were cancelled on the ground that “due procedures were not followed” in the matter and that the government did not have funds to implement those decisions. But the prevailing political compulsions have now forced Nitish to win the Manjhi voters.

“This is the height of shamelessness. The man who earlier scrapped all the 34 cabinet decisions taken by my government terming them ‘illegal’ is slowly implementing them one by one. I am wondering how Nitish has suddenly found merits in my decisions,” asked former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. He alleged Nitish was now restless to somehow stay in power but the masses would not give him the chance again.

If that  was not enough, Nitish has also made an apparent move to win the support of certain castes whose votes he feels could be crucial for his alliance. As part of this game, he has included politically significant Teli (oilmen), the caste which has been the traditional voters of the BJP, Badai and Dangi castes in the ‘Extremely Backward Caste’ category. All these castes earlier figured in the OBC list. Similarly, he has included the Tanti (Tatva) caste into the list of Scheduled Caste. The efforts show the desperation of Nitish to wish as much support of the masses.

What makes Nitish so worried? Observers say Nitish’s desperation lies in his apprehension that Yadavs, who forms the main vote bank of the RJD, may not vote for him in the coming elections. Yadavs have been at war with Nitish ever since he rebelled against Lalu in 1994 and then joined the NDA to oust the RJD government. They straightway blame Nitish for allegedly conspiring with the BJP to implicate Lalu in the fodder scam, sending him to jail and also cutting short his active political career.

“Somewhere in his mind, Nitish has fears from Lalu’s voters, and hence he has gone on cultivating his own constituency to stay in power now that he looks less hopeful of getting the backing of huge Mahadalit voters post Manjhi exit,” explained a political expert wishing not to be quoted.

Apparently it was this fear that prompted Nitish to act against his “loyal” Anant Singh, the dreaded gangster-turned-JD(U) legislator. Singh was arrested and sent to jail after his name came up in the kidnapping of four Yadav youths. One of the kidnap victims was later murdered and his body recovered from Ladma, the native place of Anant Singh. This was the first time in 10 years that Nitish had cracked down on the Bhumihar leader. Nitish has been very close to the influential upper caste as is evident from his move to include a fairly good number of leaders from this particular caste in his cabinet and then giving them key positions in his party’s organisations.

Updated Date: Jul 02, 2015 12:45 PM

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