Bihar’s Agriculture Minister Sudhakar Singh who made critical comments directed at Chief Minister Nitish Kumar last month resigned from the government on Sunday. With this, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader became the second Cabinet minister to exit the Mahagathbandhan (Grand alliance)” government.
In a statement, the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said Nitish had accepted Singh’s resignation and intimated Governor Phagu Chauhan. Tourism Minister Kumar Sarvajeet has been appointed the state’s new agriculture minister while the responsibilities of the tourism department will be handled by Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav.
Earlier in the day, sources in the RJD said Singh was understood to have submitted his resignation to Tejashwi, who then met Nitish to discuss the matter.
JD(U) parliamentary board chief Upendra Kushwaha said, “The development is not going to affect the stability of the government. Sudhakar Singh had said in the past that he would resign when told to do so by Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi. Maybe he got the orders.”
Sudhakar Singh’s father is the RJD’s state chief Jagadanand Singh, who is known for his proximity to party president Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi. Jagadanand Singh said earlier in the day that his son had lent his voice to the concerns of the farming community. “But sometimes, this is not enough. Sacrifices have to be made. Therefore, the agriculture minister has sent his resignation letter to the government.” He added that the decision was made “because we did not want the rift to widen (hum nahin chahte hain ki ye ladaai aage badhe)”.
In an interview to The Indian Express in August, Sudhakar Singh warned of drought in Bihar. “With 40 per cent deficient rains and paddy sowing being hit, Bihar is staring at perhaps the worst-ever drought in the last five decades,” he said, before going on to say, “It is sad that despite three agricultural roadmaps, things have not improved in the state over the years. We have identified that the main problem starts from the seed level.”
Last month, Singh flagged “corruption” in his department and claimed that the government was not listening to him. Speaking of alleged corruption in the lower bureaucracy, Singh said, “There is not anyone in my department who does not engage in corrupt practices… Aur hum choron ke sardar hain (And we are the head of thieves).”
In a veiled attack on the CM, the minister said, “I have been asking the government to engage multiple agencies to buy paddy, but there is no reaction. I am not talking about bureaucrats but about big politicians. When I talked about setting up mandis to buy grains from farmers, it was not considered either… Aese laga jaise samnewale ko bukhar ho gaya ho (It seemed the person in front of me had caught a fever).”
In a subsequent interview to The Indian Express, the first-time MLA from Ramgarh said, “What I said should not embarrass anyone because I have flagged my serious concerns about deep-rooted corruption and overall poor implementation of our schemes.” Though there were reports of Nitish being upset about the comments, Singh denied it at the time, saying, “Neither CM Nitish Kumar nor anybody else told me anything in the Cabinet meeting or elsewhere … My party knows about my stand and my demands to make things better in agriculture department. We have hardly achieved anything in last 17 years. As a minister, I have to identify problems and try to rectify them.”
The BJP was quick to comment on the resignation. “Sudhakar Singh had been raising his voice against afsarshahi (bureaucratic high-handedness),” said state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal. “This is something that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar cannot tolerate. Hence he has been made to resign.”
The BJP had raised a hue and cry when Singh was inducted into the Cabinet, pointing to a case of payment default of a rice mill he owns. Singh started his political career with the BJP and contested from Ramgarh on a party ticket in 2010. He lost his deposit in that election.
Last month, RJD leader Kartik Kumar, also known as Kartikeya Singh, resigned from the government after his portfolio was changed from Law to Sugarcane Industry. The government’s move came after the MLC was scheduled to appear before a local court in connection with a pending arrest warrant against him in a kidnapping case from 2014.
(With PTI inputs)