It was no surprise perhaps that when Deoghar International Airport saw a fracas on August 31, the man at the centre of it was BJP Godda MP Nishikant Dubey. The 53-year-old political leader is never far from news when it comes to Jharkhand – or even outside it, for that matter.
An FIR has been filed against Dubey, accusing him of forcing his way inside the Air Traffic Control room of Deoghar airport and pressuring officials to clear night take-off of his chartered plane, against security protocols.
This is just his latest face-off with the Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand government, with which he has had an exchange of words over everything from corruption to rape allegations.
Born in Deoghar in Bihar and the nephew of a Jana Sangh leader, who he claims was jailed during the Emergency, Dubey strayed to the RSS early, starting with its Shakhas. After a stint in the corporate world, he joined active politics in 2009, and has been elected now from the Godda Lok Sabha seat thrice. He likes to take credit, while thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for bringing to his constituency the Deoghar airport, a railway station, an AIIMS and an Adani Power Project – investments to the tune of “Rs 1 lakh crore”, he says.
For rival parties, especially the JMM, he is also the man with knives out for them. “The entire caucus of Nishikant Dubey, the BJP’s Babulal Marandi and his advisor Sunil Tiwary have been a pain for CM Hemant Soren,” says a source close to the government.
In July 2020, Dubey wrote to the PM and Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking a CBI probe into alleged links of Soren with a businessman. Later the same month, he sought reopening of investigation into a rape complaint lodged by a Maharashtra woman against Soren, which she had later withdrawn, writing to then chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on the matter. Her petition seeking registration of an FIR is pending in the Bombay High Court.
Incidentally, Sunil Tiwary too is facing a case of allegedly raping his domestic help.
Soren, who now finds himself in bigger trouble over the mining row, has also faced allegations of mishandling of law and order situations.
What happened in Deoghar has been building up for some time. Sources say the JMM-led coalition government has singled out the district, where Dubey’s core vote lies, to post officials compliant about doing its bidding. In fact, under the current government, Deoghar has seen transfer of four SPs in quick succession, leading up to current officer Subhash Chandra Jat.
Deoghar Deputy Commissioner (DC) Manjunath Bhajantri, with whom Dubey had a public war of words on social media over the airport issue, has clashed with Dubey more than once. In the present case, Dubey said his letter to the SP, Deoghar, for a counter-complaint on the ATC row had not elicited any response from Bhajantri. This was why he had to file a zero FIR with the Delhi Police, he said, leading to Bhajantri being booked for sedition among other charges.
Last year, the Jharkhand High Court quashed two FIRs filed against Dubey’s wife in Deoghar district in 2020, for allegedly purchasing a property at an undervalued rate, and for committing fraud in case of another. The High Court held that the disputes were “civil in nature” and the criminal proceedings were “sheer abuse of process of the court”.
In April 2021, Bhajantri was removed as Deoghar DC after the Election Commission held that he could not be in the post during the Madhupur by-election, following a complaint by the BJP. Bhajantri rejoined in May 2021.
Months later, in October, Bhajantri ordered five FIRs against Dubey over alleged violations of the model code of conduct during the by-elections.
In a stinging indictment of Bhajantri in December 2021, the EC held that the case was not “legally sustainable”, while questioning the delay in filing it. It also recommended “major penalty” against Bhajantri, and ordered that he be “removed” from the post of DC “immediately”. Sources said the government sought reconsideration, and as it is still waiting for an update from the EC, Bhajantri has continued as DC.
Unlike the other officials in the district, Bhajantri has now been in the Deoghar post since November 17, 2020, barring the period of the bypoll. He has also earned his own share of the limelight with a weekly programme called ‘Dinner with DC’, where he eats with villagers while taking feedback from them on various schemes.
An IAS officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said they are caught in a bind with “everyone playing their own game”. “The DC is also toeing the state government’s line and that is why he has been placed there.”
As Dubey ups his attacks against the nervous Soren government, which is on the brink over the possibility of the CM’s disqualification, the JMM and Congress accuse the MP of having “prior information” on raids such as by the Enforcement Directorate. Dubey has also issued statements indicating he had access to the EC’s letter which might lead to Soren’s disqualification, which Governor Ramesh Bais is yet to unveil.
But while Dubey has served the BJP’s purpose in keeping Soren on his toes in Jharkhand – and provoking the Opposition with his attacks inside Parliament — even within his own party, Dubey has had his share of trouble. Sources said that as CM, Raghubar Das often had run-ins with the MP. A source close to Das said: “It was a personality clash because Nishikant Dubey’s approach was not liked by Das.” A young BJP leader remembers Dubey often attacking the former BJP CM prior to the election of 2019.
BJP leaders also talk of Dubey’s “pushiness” over projects in his constituency. Last year in April, he had a showdown with Poreyahat Congress MLA Pradeep Yadav during the flagging off of the Godda-New Delhi special train. Dubey, who takes credit for Godda’s railway station, has claimed several times that since Independence, it was the first time a train passed from the town. Yadav had accused him of trying to hijack the project, though the state government had spent more than Rs 250 crore on it.
A senior government insider said that through his “influence” at the Centre, Dubey had also ensured an AIIMS facility for his constituency, though the general demand was for it to be set up in Ranchi. A source said that but what had to be noted was that he “never seeks any favours in the tendering process”.
Others cite an interview Dubey gave to DD News in May this year, when he made typically “grandiose” statements about wanting Jharkhand to develop, and citing his efforts in Deoghar district. Asked about the controversies he is often at the heart of, Dubey said: “If I have a commitment to the party and if the party seems to be stuck or someone is speaking against it, it is my duty to speak up, whether one likes it or not. All controversies involving me relate to that. I never saw my own interest in it… Mujhe hamesha lagta hai ki agar BJP hai, toh main hoon, agar nahin hai, to mein nahin hoon, aur iss karan se logon ko satya sunna pasand nahin hai (I always feel that I exist due to the party, and people don’t like to listen to the truth).”