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Monday, April 12, 2021

No bridges in Patna

Scenes in assembly, confrontation over police bill, frame unwillingness of Nitish government to negotiate with Opposition.

By: Editorial |
Updated: March 25, 2021 9:07:37 am
The police behaviour in the assembly premises and outside with Opposition legislators has given credence to the RJD's accusations of government high-handedness.

The unseemly scenes of chaos and confrontation that followed the passage of the Bihar Special Armed Police Bill, 2021 in the assembly on Tuesday shine extremely unflattering light on the Nitish Kumar government. The provisions of the Bill are seen to be controversial — it converts 21 battalions of Bihar Military Police to a special police force on the lines of the Central Industrial Security Force to protect industrial units in the state. The manner in which it was passed in the House, overriding reservations and concerns of the Opposition parties, has deepened the political impasse. The police behaviour in the assembly premises and outside with Opposition legislators has given credence to the RJD’s accusations of government high-handedness.

The confrontation in Patna also points to a new political phase in Bihar that is unfolding ever since the closely fought election last year. RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav ran a spirited campaign and resurrected a party that has been keenly feeling the absence of his father and its tallest leader, Lalu Prasad, in prison since December 2017, by offering an agenda that appeared to resonate with the people, especially the youth, even if it could not carry him to power. Though Chief Minister Nitish Kumar managed to win a fourth consecutive term, his own party’s decline has conceded greater space to ally BJP, which finished with a higher number of seats than JD-U. Yadav has since been asserting his presence politically. Unlike in the past when he was seen as a reluctant campaigner, he appears to be alert to opportunities to raise the ante. An active and lively Opposition is good for the state, even as it apparently unsettles Kumar, who has not been robustly challenged as politician and administrator for over two decades.

Kumar, once cited as a potential Opposition candidate for the PM’s office, cannot be unaware of his own diminished stature. He recently walked the extra mile to accommodate former colleague and bitter rival for nearly a decade, Upendra Kushwaha, as JD-U party president. Kushwaha and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) failed to make a dent in the election, but Kumar, recognising that RLSP’s social base overlaps with that of JD-U, has presided over a joining of forces. This may be aimed at strengthening JD-U at a time when ally BJP and opponent RJD seem to be expanding their footprint and clout at its expense. The veteran chief minister needs to display similar nous in the assembly and negotiate with the Opposition parties on sensitive legislation.

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