Move to ban criticism of govt functionaries a reflection of Nitish Kumar’s growing frustration with BJP?

The Bihar CM and some senior leaders of JD(U) dropped enough hints at the recently-held state executive meet of the party of a shift away from the BJP and return to the party’s socialist roots

Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (Photo courtesy: IANS)
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar (Photo courtesy: IANS)

Arun Srivastava

Though he is a self-proclaimed disciple of famous socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has preferred to follow in the footsteps of his rightist autocratic friends.

While the media in Bihar has been acting subservient to him and dancing to his tunes, it did raise the issue of the brutal murder of the manager of the Patna office of a private airline that provoked him to lose his cool and use denigrating language against the media.

As if this was not enough, the Bihar govt issued a circular forbidding the criticism of the political elites of the state. As per this, anyone criticising the state government, ministers, MLAs, MPs or officials on social media will land in jail. Nitish Kumar’s administration has brought under the ambit of cybercrime “objectionable comments” by individuals or organisations against the government and its functionaries and lawmakers.

A week back, the economic offences unit (EOU) of Bihar Police, which is the nodal agency to tackle cybercrime, asked senior government officials to provide detailed information if they come across “objectionable comments made by undesirable persons or organisations against the Bihar government on the social media or the Internet, so that effective action could be taken against them as per the law”.

According to police officials, the move had become necessary because of the increasing “misuse” of the social media. The complaints will be routed through the departmental heads (principal secretaries or secretaries). The EOU comes under the Home Department, held by Nitish.

It is indeed shocking that a person who was perceived as an able administrator and provider of ‘sushasan’ has turned incompetent and a ‘villain’ in the eyes of the people of the state.

His move is reminiscent of the Press Bill of 1982 brought in by the then Bihar CM Dr Jagannath Mishra, when he was facing criticism from a section of the media of being involved in corrupt practices.

Incidentally, Bihar govt’s move comes six years after the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, which criminalised “offensive” online comments on the ground that it violated the constitutional right to free expression.

People have come to nurse the notion that Nitish Kumar has lost his control and grip on the administration. This binary has turned him aggressive and intolerant in facing any sort of disparagement. People believe that his writ no more runs in Bihar.

Nitish has had the habit of making promises to curb crime and make the administration responsive, but he has been found to be wanting on both the counts. The police is seen as a biased and corrupt force. Rape, murder and robbery are regular features in Bihar. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that people have accepted them as fait accompli.

Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav recently said: “Nitish Kumar is walking in the footsteps of Hitler. He is a creator of 60 scams, the patron of infamous criminals and a weak head of an unethical and illegal government. The Bihar Police sell liquor, protect criminals and implicate the innocent. I challenge the chief minister to arrest me under his latest order.”

The Congress leader Prem Chandra Mishra said the EOU letter had shown up “a government that is afraid of criticism and is worried over its failures”.

Intriguingly, BJP legislator Nitin Navin has demanded that Bihar should adopt the ‘Uttar Pradesh model’ of encounters to tame criminals.

Incidentally, Nitish Kumar has formed the habit of citing the 15-year rule of Lalu Prasad and hiding his failures behind it. But that is an old story. Nitish has been lording over the state since 2005. This is a long period to develop a state.

Rumours are also making the round in political circles that the central leadership of BJP is working on a plan to replace him by its own leader. All round criticism of his functioning is cited as the reason for this design. There is also talk of the reluctance of the BJP leadership to concede to his desire to induct more JD(U) legislatures as ministers.

Recently, the BJP engineered defection of six JD(U) legislators in Arunachal Pradesh. The BJP leadership ignored Nitish’s protest at this development.

In another significant development, former chief minister Rabri Devi has said that she would have no objections if Nitish Kumar was to switch sides and join the Grand Alliance. Though Nitish brushed aside the suggestion, party sources do not rule out the possibility.

There is little doubt that the BJP has become a source of anguish for Nitish. He and some senior leaders of JD(U) dropped enough hints at the state executive meet of the party of a shift away from the BJP and return to the party’s socialist roots.

Nitish said at the state meet: “We belong to the socialist ideology. We believe in the tenets of Mahatma Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Karpoori Thakur.”

Nitish is clearly passing through a bad phase of his political career, which may explain why he has been resorting to erratic and anomalous actions. He recently ‘admitted’ that the JD(U) could not take his achievement to the people.

Though it is not yet clear whether he is actually interested in breaking his ties with the BJP, one thing that seems clear is that the baggage of BJP’s crafty politics seems to be having an impact on his personality. His party men cite his remark – “I fail to understand who were my friends and who were my enemies during the recently concluded state elections” – apparently reflects his frustration.

(IPA Service)

(Views expressed are personal)

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