Several ironies are implicit in the resignation of Bihar’s Education Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Mewa Lal Chaudhury within three days of taking oath, ostensibly on the ground that he faced charges of corruption relating to appointments made during his tenure as Vice- Chancellor of the Bhagalpur Agricultural University.
The opposition has alleged that sanction for his prosecution was granted by then Governor of the state and that a FIR had been registered, leading to his suspension from the party for some time in 2017. Glossed over is the fact that no charge-sheet was filed. The first irony is that Mr Chaudhury is one of the few candidates in the Bihar assembly election to have declared that he had no criminal charges pending against him.
This must be viewed against the backdrop of the findings of the Association of Democratic Rights which determined that 68 per cent of the winning candidates had criminal cases against them, and 51 per cent faced serious criminal charges such as murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, crimes against women, etc. If the registration of a FIR qualifies as a “pending criminal case”, Mr Chaudhury could be guilty of a misdeclaration in his election papers.
But judgments of the apex court mandate that such declarations must be made by candidates who face actual criminal cases, not necessarily by those who may have been named in three-year-old First Information Reports that have failed to yield even a charge sheet. The other irony is that the JD (U), the party to which Mr Chaudhury belongs, has the best record insofar as criminal antecedents of its candidates is concerned.
Less than half of its winning candidates face criminal charges, and about a quarter are accused of serious crimes. While these numbers are unflattering, they must be viewed in the context of Bihar, where the records of the two parties that fared the best at the hustings are far from edifying. Nearly three-fourths of the winners from the RJD face criminal charges, and 60 per cent are accused of serious crimes.
The record of the Bharatiya Janata Party is not much better; nearly two-thirds of its MLAs face criminal charges while almost half are accused of serious crimes. Compared to worthies of these two and other parties, Mr Chaudhary’s record is nearly stellar, which then would suggest that the BJP has begun the process of letting its junior partner in the National Democratic Alliance administration know just who calls the shots.
For while the demand for Mr Chaudhury’s resignation was raised by the opposition, its acceptance within the space of hours would not have occurred without the BJP’s prodding. This is the only reasonable explanation for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s hasty capitulation, and ought also to inform him on how his stewardship of government may be circumscribed in the days to come.