Bihar became ‘spirits-less’ in 2016 but was not less on news as incidents like the toppers scam, a road rage incident involving a politician’s son and murder of journalists made headlines, albeit for wrong reasons. On the political front, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar managed to keep his ‘grand alliance’ flock together though there appeared to be some fissures in the latter part of the year. Nitish’s support to the Centre’s demonetisation move upset RJD and Congress. The two supported a nationwide bandh on November 28 even as JD(U) kept itself away. TMC President and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s dharna in Patna on November 30 invited further criticism for Nitish.
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Supported by RJD, whose vice president Raghubansh Prasad Singh and state president Ram Chandra Purbe shared dais with Banerjee, the TMC chief in an oblique attack on Nitish called him “gaddar” (traitor) for supporting demonetisation. Bihar, which had drawn widespread criticism over mass cheating in 2015 matriculation examination, had a worse time this year with the surfacing of the toppers scam.
A media expose brought to light a racket in the Bihar School Examination Board under which a student was made topper in different streams in exchange of handsome cash. During a media interview, Arts topper Ruby Rai pronounced her subject political science as “prodikal science” which she said was related to cooking. She was not the only black sheep, Science topper Saurabh Kumar too expressed ignorance about electrons and protons and could not figure out the link between water and H2O. Chairman of the state exam board Lalkeshwar Prasad Singh; his wife Usha Sinha, a former JD(U) MLA; mastermind of the racket Bacha Rai and others were arrested. After re-test of first 10 rank holders in varied streams, results of Rai, Kumar and third ranker in science, all from Bishundeo Rai college of Hajipur, were cancelled.
RJD MLA from Nawada Raj Ballabh Yadav was arrested in a case of alleged rape of a minor girl in Nalanda. The party suspended him. Bihar also witnessed a worst kind of road rage incident in Gaya. Trigger happy Rocky Yadav, son of JD(U) MLC Manorma Devi and RJD baddy Bindi Yadav, shot dead 19-year-old student Aditya Sachdeva for daring to overtake his SUV on May 7. With the incident drawing national shame, JD(U) suspended Devi and all the three were arrested. The Patna High Court granted Rocky bail but the state government filed an appeal in the Supreme Court and he returned behind the bars.
Fulfilling his pre-poll promise, Nitish declared Bihar a complete dry state on April 5 replacing the British-period Excise Act of 1915 with harsh penal provisions. The new excise law banned spiced and domestic alcohol as well Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). Some amendments in the legislation were expected to come up in state Legislative Assembly during the winter session but it did not happen as the government said it was still seeking legal opinion.
The April liquor law which promised to strictly enforce the 1991 regulations on toddy (palm drink) that prohibited opening of its outlets within 50 metres of schools, colleges and hospitals in urban areas and 100 metres in rural areas invited sharp criticism from NDA and also some discordant voice from allies.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad, whose party is the largest constituent in the coalition with 80 MLAs, also sought concessions on toddy after which it was clarified there was no ban on the palm drink. The government said on the pattern of Tamil Nadu it would promote “Neera” (palm drink before fermentation) in place of alcoholic toddy from next year.
There was a tragic part to the liquor ban also. Nineteen people died after consuming hooch in Motihari on July 19 raising question marks over the efficacy of the liquor law as there were several incidents of alcohol smuggling.
Apart from imposing prohibition, Nitish also launched “seven resolves”, promising electricity, drinking water, toilet and road to every household and areas in the very first year of his government in the office.
There were also several attacks on journalists. In July, the murder of a vernacular newspaper journo Rajdeo Ranjan rocked the state. Some of close associates of controversial RJD leader Mohammad Shahabuddin were arrested in connection with the case. Another journalist of a vernacular daily Dharmendra Singh, who had reported on illegal stone chips units, was also shot dead.
BJP and its NDA allies used these incidents to claim return of “jungle raj” (an euphemism used for bad law and order situation during 15 years of RJD rule). But Nitish dismissed the charge and pointed to National Crime Record Bureau’s latest report, which ranked Bihar 22nd on nationwide crime chart to assert that rule of law prevailed in the state.
The state government filed an appeal in the Supreme Court 0against the bail to Shahabuddin, who after coming out of Bhagalpur jail on September 10 made caustic comments on Nitish calling him “circumstantial Chief Minister.” He was back to Siwan jail on September 30 after the apex court cancelled his bail.
The Shahabuddin issue led to a war of words between the RJD and JD-U. Lalu Prasad defended him saying he did not make any derogatory remarks. Raghubansh added fuel to the fire through his vitriolic comments on Nitish.
The attacks drew sharp protest from JD(U) whose two senior ministers Bijendra Prasad Yadav and Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lallan asked Lalu to rein in rogue elements. Congress sided with Nitish and asked RJD to follow coalition dharma or quit.
Bihar also witnessed some incidents of extortion demand from doctors and some kidnapping cases for ransom. Rescue of two trader brothers of Delhi who were lured to a jungle in a Naxal-hit area, from Lakhisarai on October 26 came as a welcome news.
Nitish went on “Nishchay Yatra” in November, criss-crossing the state to take feedback on prohibition and seven resolves.
President Pranab Mukherjee gave degrees to first batch of students of Nalanda University at a convocation on August 26. The state also hosted hundreds of Sikhs from across the world at 350 prakash parva of Guru Govind Singh.