Bihar in 2017 witnessed one of the most dramatic political realignments in recent history as Chief Minister Nitish Kumar dumped the Grand Alliance, comprising his JD(U), arch rival Lalu Prasad’s RJD and the Congress, to rejoin the BJP-led NDA.
While witnessing the cataclysmic political developments, the state was also ravaged by floods which affected 19 districts of north Bihar, rendered close to a million homeless and claimed more than 500 lives.
Shortly after the installation of the new government, the Srijan scam involving fraudulent transfer of hundreds of crores from the treasury to an NGO came to light. The state government promptly ordered a CBI inquiry amid allegations from the opposition that the NGO enjoyed patronage from many top leaders of the ruling coalition.
Driven by the conviction that social evils must be eradicated for the fruits of development to reach all, Kumar also launched campaigns against dowry and child marriage, claiming that these reforms would transform the society in no smaller measure than his previous radical step of prohibition had done.
However, incidents like hooch tragedies in Rohtas and Vaishali districts and killing of a policeman by liquor smugglers in Samastipur as also frequent seizures of huge quantities of liquor across the state despite a stringent prohibition law raised question mark on the liquor ban being practical.
Kumar took the drastic step of severing ties with the “Mahagathbandhan” four years after he had snapped his 17- year-old association with the BJP in protest against the latter making Narendra Modi its prime ministerial candidate.
The sharp hostility between the two leaders began giving way to bonhomie which became evident at the “Prakash Parv” in January, when at a function held to celebrate 350th birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh Modi and Kumar shared dais and showered praise on each other.
During the assembly polls in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh in February, the JD(U) gave up its earlier enthusiasm for opposition unity and maintained a studied distance notwithstanding the Congress forming an alliance with the Samajwadi Party and the RJD throwing its weight behind the coalition.
Earlier, last year, Kumar had ruffled the feathers of his coalition partners by coming out in support of Modi’s demonetisation decision, which the Congress and the RJD criticise till date.
That all was not well with the “Mahagathbandhan” became more than obvious when Kumar decided to support the candidature of Ram Nath Kovind in the presidential polls. The chief minister defended his decision citing Kovind’s exemplary conduct as the governor of Bihar and contended that the Congress-led UPA, by belatedly fielding former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, was fighting a lost battle.
However, the turning point came with the CBI filing a case in connection with the land for hotels scam against Lalu Prasad and his family members, including his younger son and the then deputy chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav.
Kumar’s suggestion that Yadav give a public explanation was rejected by the RJD and he resigned from the chief minister’s post citing irreconcilable differences with his alliance partner. The BJP came up with the offer of support and a new government was installed with Kumar being sworn in as the chief minister less than 24 hours after having stepped down.
The stormy developments did not leave the JD(U) unscathed, though, with the party’s former president Sharad Yadav and Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar, an old Kumar loyalist, raising a banner of revolt.
Defying party diktats, the duo took part in functions held by the RJD and openly accused Kumar of having betrayed the mandate of 2015 assembly polls.
Kumar, who is also the JD(U) president, however, scored a few points by expelling all Sharad loyalists from the party, successfully defending a case against the rebel faction’s claim over the party symbol before the Election Commission and finally getting both Sharad Yadav and Ali Anwar disqualified from the Rajya Sabha.
The collapse of the Grand Alliance also caused turmoil in the state unit of the Congress, which stands bitterly divided into two factions, one said to be close to Kumar and the other more comfortable with the RJD.
Infighting led to the removal of Ashok Choudhary as the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee chief. The rival faction has been accusing Choudhary of plotting a split at the instance of Kumar in whose cabinet he was a powerful minister and with whom he is said to maintain good relations.
The RJD has been having its own share of woes with Prasad routinely appearing before a CBI court in Jharkhand in connection with cases related to the fodder scam. His Rajya Sabha MP daughter Misa Bharti, her husband Shailesh and Tejashwi have been grilled by the ED in a money laundering case.
His wife Rabri Devi refused to appear before the ED in Delhi despite as many as six summonses following which Enforcement Directorate officials came to Patna to interrogate her. The couple’s elder son Tej Pratap Yadav, too, faces a probe by the state vigilance bureau in a soil purchase scam.
Prasad’s grip over the party which he had founded, nevertheless, appears firm. While he himself was elected, unopposed, as the party’s national president for a term that ends in 2020, a resolution declaring Tejashwi as the RJD’s chief ministerial candidate was passed at the party’s recently-held national council.
Another key decision taken by the Nitish Kumar government was to introduce reservations in outsourced services, a move that has been described by critics as an attempt to bring quota system in the private sector through backdoor.
A new mining policy brought in July to put a check on illegal sand mining became a major bone of contention. The same has been stayed by the Patna High Court, which has also directed the state government to ensure that mining was allowed under the old provisions.
An appeal against the high court order has been turned down by the Supreme Court. Truck operators in the state went on a strike in November in protest against stringent restrictions imposed on transportation of sand while the RJD, often accused of being in cahoots with the state’s sand mining mafia, has seized the opportunity to blame the government for a slump in construction activities which has rendered many workers jobless.
Another Patna High Court order stating that contractual teachers in the state were entitled to get salary at par with their regular counterparts has also left the cash-starved government in a bind.