How Nitish Kumar took revenge on Giriraj Singh and Ashwini Choubey
Two of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet ministers are finding themselves in turbulent waters in Bihar
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar seems to have had the last laugh when he compelled Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), his alliance partner, to shift the constituency of Union minister Giriraj Singh to accommodate the nominee of Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).
However, the LJP of Ram Vilas Paswan, had no role in making Giriraj Singh shift to another constituency to make way for the LJP nominee.
Nitish Kumar, according to sources in BJP, also wanted to change the constituency of another Union minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey, who too, besides Giriraj Singh, is the chief minister’s bete noire.
However, Choubey could not be shifted from the constituency of his choice, Buxar which he represents in the Lok Sabha.
Giriraj and Ashwini had both served as ministers in the Nitish cabinet till June 16, 2013 Nitish snapped his ties with the BJP and sacked all its 11 ministers.
Even when they were in the Nitish cabinet, Giriraj and Ashwini were vocal critic of the Bihar government. They became more bitter after their removal from the cabinet.
They both won the last Lok Sabha election and went on to become Union ministers. They never left any opportunity to attack Nitish who had joined hands with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress.
Both Giriraj and Ashwini emerged as the strongest loyalists of the Prime Minister in Bihar. At times they were more lethal in their attack on Nitish than on RJD leader Lalu Prasad.
They did not change their stance even after Nitish joined hands with the BJP. During Ram Navami festival last year they openly supported the decision to take out religious processions throughout the state. In Bhagalpur, Ashwini's son led the procession which sparked off riots. He was arrested a fortnight after the incident.
The state witnessed a spate of communal riots causing embarrassment to Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar got his first chance to cut the Bihar unit of the BJP to size at the time of seat sharing arrangements. He got the saffron party agree to a 17-17 seats formula with the JDU.
Next, Nitish also had his say in the selection of constituencies.
The genesis of the problem of the Nawada seat can be traced somewhere else.
The LJP had won the Munger seat last time. Its candidate Veena Devi had defeated JDU's Lallan Singh, considered favourite of Nitish and is a minister in his cabinet.
The JDU has once again laid claim over this seat though it should actually have gone to last time’s winning candidate of the LJP.
But it was Nitish's move which compelled the BJP to make space for Lallan. The saffron party then requested the LJP to shift its candidate to some other seat.
But there was no other suitable constituency left. Both Lallan and Veena come from Bhumihar castes. So the other constituency with significant Bhumihar presence was Nawada. The BJP was then compelled to make way for LJP
Incidentally, Begusarai, where Giriraj has been shifted, got vacated because of the death of the sitting BJP MP Bhola Singh last October. As Bhola managed to defeat RJD’s Tanvir Hasan by a relatively small margin of over 58,000 votes and that too during the Narendra Modi wave, Giriraj was not so keen to contest from here. He had nursed Nawada in the last five years and was feeling more comfortable there.
No doubt Begusarai is considered as Giriraj’s home turf and in 2014 he was interested to contest from here. But this time he agreed to the party’s decision reluctantly.
Curiously, when on March 23 the NDA announced the names of its 39 out of 40 candidates Veena Devi was not the LJP nominee from Nawada. Instead her husband’s younger brother Chandan Kumar’s name figured in the list.
Veena’s husband Surajbhan Singh is a notorious strongman and was earlier close to Nitish Kumar. Though nothing can yet be known as to why Veena was replaced by Chandan many in political circle attribute it to some problem within her family.
Many within the BJP are suspecting that JDU cadres may not put in their best in Buxar from where Ashwini is contesting. There is reason for this trust deficit as Ashwini has not forgotten that Nitish had sacked him and 10 other BJP ministers from the cabinet on the day he lost seven members of his family in flash flood and lightening in Utttarkhand on June 16, 2013.
Ashwini, then a Bihar minister, had gone there for a pilgrimage. He was extremely upset then because instead of helping his family come out of this natural disaster he heard the news of his sacking.