There were various reasons, political and personal, why RJD leader Sudhakar Singh quit as the Bihar agriculture minister last Sunday. Singh had flagged “rampant corruption” in the state agriculture department, much to the annoyance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Another political reason for the resignation of Ramgarh MLA Sudhakar from the Nitish ministry was the RJD’s “inability” to stand by him as it did not want to rock the boat of the fledgling Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) government 2.0 and concede any political space or mileage to the principal Opposition BJP.
There was a personal reason behind Sudhakar’s move too. RJD state president Jagdanand Singh, father of Sudhakar, has never been a Nitish’s admirer. Even though RJD chief Lalu Prasad accepted Nitish’s leadership, Jagdanand never accepted the latter as his leader and looked to stand by the “valid demands” of Sudhakar, who had sought an overhaul in the agriculture sector by seeking the control of mandis by the government all over again and roping in multiple agencies for procuring grains instead of doing it only through the Primary Agriculture Cooperative Credit Society (PACCS).
Sources in both the government and the RJD told The Indian Express that the immediate trigger of Sudhakar quitting as the agriculture minister was his proposal to probe the functioning of three agriculture roadmaps (2007-12, 2012-17 and 2017-22) — the Nitish dispensation’s flagship project with the avowed objective to boost agriculture production and enhance farmers’ incomes, among other things — which cumulatively incurred an expenditure of over Rs 1.55 lakh crore. Sudhakar had told The Indian Express in an interview last month that when the agriculture roadmaps did not result in increasing agriculture produce and farmers’ income, it was not justified to spend huge sums on such plans.
A government source said: “Even though the government was okay with Sudhakar Singh engaging either Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) or AN Sinha Institute to scrutinise the functioning of the agriculture roadmaps, Singh wanted to engage any third agency (in this regard).”
The source said that the conflict between Singh and the bureaucracy had been “worsening”. With the CM often boasting of the agriculture roadmaps, Sudhakar had expected his party to support him, which did not happen. He was then left with two options — either intensify his confrontation with the CM or resign. Jagdanand called his son’s resignation a “sacrifice made for cause of farmers on Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary”, thereby giving a message to his own party in his own way.
It had all started with Sudhakar demanding the engagement of multiple agencies for grain procurement instead of depending solely on the PACCS, which has not been able to meet its targets of wheat and paddy procurement. The RJD, then the principal Opposition, had criticised the Nitish government’s procurement policy through a single agency. The Nitish government, which had scrapped the system of multiple procurement agencies in 2006, did not want to return to the previous system. Sudhakar also wanted about 95 state mandis revived and taken over by the government so that farmers could get fair price for their produce. But neither of these two demands made by Sudhakar were met.
The Nitish dispensation had not been happy with the functioning of bazaar samitis because of recurrent complaints of corruption. Sudhakar had contended that it was only under the government control that mandis could function properly. He also argued that the PACCS had not been able to meet the procurement targets.Sudhakar’s another grouse was that Nitish never called him for a one-on-one meeting to discuss these issue. The CM wanted him to talk about these problems during a cabinet meeting in the presence of bureaucrats. Sudhakar wanted to avoid any situation in which the CM ended up reprimanding him before the bureaucrats.
Sudhakar had also flagged corruption in the bureaucracy as well as the illegal sale of fertilisers, mostly in districts bordering Nepal and Bangladesh. These districts reportedly sent more than the required requisition of fertilisers. His outburst, ”Aur hum choron ke sardar hain (And we are the head of thieves)” had come while addressing a gathering in his constituency amid sundry complaints of corruption in his agriculture department.
Lalu Prasad and Deputy CM Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, however, could not back Sudhakar despite their closeness to Jagdanand, who has been senior to both Lalu and Nitish. The RJD bosses instead put Sudhakar’s demands on the back burner, choosing to stick to the Mahagathbandhan’s “larger cause of defeating the BJP” in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. But Sudhakar was also not willing to compromise on his stand and he thus chose to step down as a minister.