Nitish Kumar, being at the helm of Bihar, is consistently striving to enhance his own independent constituency—of late, by raising stale issues like reservation in private jobs, dowry-less marriage and anti-child marriage campaign. He ventured across caste groups one after another to engineer social combinations that keep him glued to the chair. Indeed, so far he has been quite successful in thriving on the political spectrum of Bihar since 2005, after replacing one and a half decade of Lalu-Rabri rule by combining BJP’s upper caste votes to his constituencies—mainly Koeris and Kurmis.
Soon after coming to power Nitish began to tinker with social dynamics of the State. He carved out Mahadalits from Dalits by excluding Paswan and gave extremely backward castes 20% reservations in panchayat and urban local body’s election. He even tried to build an untraditional constituency by increasing women reservation quota from 33% to 50% in Panchayats and urban local bodies.
Subsequently, he went on to pursue social issues like liquor prohibition, dowry-less and anti-child marriage campaign etc. Analysts’ point out that continuous agitation by women groups against prevalence of liquor which caused steep rise in domestic violence forced him to impose prohibition. They say, it was due to his own liberal licensing policy which let liquor shops to flourish in the nooks and corners of the state. As many of his previous schemes like distribution of bicycles, specifically targeted women, thus in order to cultivate them as a constituency, he finally gave in to their demand of imposing prohibition.
Thanks to altogether changed dynamics, in the second innings of its partnership with JDU, the BJP has adopted far more dominating role; exerting itself as Big Brother and not willing to give away even little political mileage to JDU. Recently, the cancellation of Power Ministers’ conference in Rajgir prompted many commentators to read it as BJP disinclination to share the glory with Nitish.
He openly expressed displeasure over the cancellation. This can further be understood by Bihar’s Power minister Bijendra Yadav’s statement: “But, of course, had the conference gone ahead, we would have got the credit. That opportunity, of course, we did not get”.
Earlier after attending Patna University centenary celebration, when PM Narendra Modi inaugurated several projects, analysts were quick to interpret it as BJP’s keenness to appropriate the credit.
Likewise, Nitish’s announcement of campaign against dowry-less and anti-child marriage attracted harsh reactions from a section of BJP. Party MLA Nitin Naveen alleged that Nitish Kumar is taking away BJP’s agenda. He cited ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Abhiyan’ to buttress his point that PM Modi is doing enough for girls.
However, when Nitish recently announced reservation in outsourced jobs and demanded similar provisions in private jobs, it has put BJP in an extremely uncomfortable position, as it may alienate upper caste votes. Leaders such as C P Thakur and Giriraj Singh straightaway denounced the move.
BJP youth wing workers protested furiously against it; they staged a dharna outside the state BJP office and shouted slogans against Deputy CM Sushil Modi. Reports suggest similar protests were organized by various upper caste groups.
Dissident BJP leader Yashwant Sinha speaking in Patna, on the other hand, challenged Nitish Kumar to bring an ordinance in this regard.
Nonetheless, it was his own party leader and former speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary who fired a salvo. He said Nitish’s move was just an old cabinet decision which was first passed in 1993 during the reign of Lalu Prasad.
Previously, Uday Narayan Chaudhary and Shayam Rajak, two Dalit faces of JDU have openly expressed their disappointment over the reservation policy of the Narendra Modi government.
At a time, when contradiction within his party and in alliance is at all-time high, by raising the issue of reservation for private jobs, Nitish has stirred the Hornet’s nest. A senior journalist wishing not to be named observed: “by raising such issues at regular intervals Nitish is trying to improve his bargaining position vis-à-vis BJP but the big question which incidentally Lalu Yadav has raised is: where are the jobs? Has any private firm made any big investment in the state in the last few years?”