While the central government seems adamant about recruiting jawans through the newly introduced Agnipath scheme, violent protests notwithstanding, this issue has snowballed into a big ego tussle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his alliance partner in Bihar Nitish kumar.
The BJP is furious with not just the Bihar Chief Minister’s in-principle opposition to this policy, which he conveyed through tweets from his party national chief Rajiv Ranjan alias Lalan Singh and another senior leader Upendra Kushwaha, but also from the public embarrassment caused by senior Minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav going on camera to urge the Centre to talk to protestors.
BJP’s anger is fuelled by the fact that following Nitish Kumar’s silence on the issue, a section of Janata Dal-United party leaders fuelled protests in the state that led to violent attacks on the Centre’s installations like railways.
There’s a consensus that the inaction of Nitish Kumar’s government led to the vandalism, with half a dozen BJP offices also being attacked. Legislators were also heckled and Bihar BJP President Sanjay Jaiswal openly alleged on Saturday that the administration turned a blind eye — he played a video for the media from Madhepura to prove his claim, where the party office was attacked in front of Bihar police jawans.
BJP’s main grievance against Nitish Kumar is that he decided to remain mum and failed to instruct officials to deal with protestors, not even considering it worthwhile to tweet or release a statement to maintain calm and protest peacefully.
@NitishKumar से भाजपा अग्निपथ मुद्दे पर खुश नहीं ख़ासकर अपने पार्टी दफ़्तर और नेताओं पर हुए हमले के कारण और अब@sanjayjaiswalMP ने कहा कि अगर घटनायें नहीं रुकी तो किसी के लिए अच्छा नहीं होगा ndtvindia @Anurag_Dwary pic.twitter.com/WbHvfxk1Lo
— manish (@manishndtv) June 18, 2022
Mr Jaisawal’s comments were swiftly rebutted by Nitish Kumar’s close aide Rajiv Ranjan who even took a swipe at the BJP leader, attributing his accusations to his “mental imbalance”.
— manish (@manishndtv) June 18, 2022
Poll strategist Prashant Kishore jumped in too, saying the people of Bihar are facing the consequences of the tensions between the BJP and JDU. “Bihar is burning but instead of resolving the situation, leaders from both parties are busy slinging mud at each other and making accusations and counteraccusations,” he tweeted in Hindi.
#Agnipath पर आंदोलन होना चाहिए, हिंसा और तोड़फोड़ नहीं।
— Prashant Kishor (@PrashantKishor) June 19, 2022
Several BJP leaders say Nitish Kumar had differed with party policy, despite being in an alliance, on several issues including the abolition of Article 370, Caste census, or revision of History books. However, he’s still seething with anger and has not forgiven the top BJP leadership for orchestrating his downfall in the 2020 November state polls through tacit understanding with Chirag Paswan where he fielded candidates only on those seats where Janata Dal-United candidates were contesting and not the BJP.
Nitish Kumar’s supporters say the task to forge seat-sharing was with BJP which it sabotaged to cut the Bihar Chief Minister down to size, which it partially succeeded in as JD(U) came third in the polls.
Nitish Kumar in his anger ignored all courtesies, which is evident from the fact that he decided not to inquire when his ministerial colleague Nitin Nabin was attacked in Ranchi. Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, however, was prompt in inquiring and also promised to send extras men in his security.
This time even Nitish Kumar’s supporters admit that inaction and silence have not done any good to his image, especially after the much-delayed twin decision on Friday evening that Internet services should be suspended in 19 districts and forces should deal with protestors. They confirmed that the two days of consecutive silence were deliberate.
His image was dented more when at the behest of an upset Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Union Home Ministry provided Y category security to ten leaders including two Deputy Chief Ministers and a host of legislators. This virtually amounts to an indictment of his handling of the state’s law and order situation. In a series of press releases, the railways also categorically blamed the train delays on the prevailing law and order problem and threat perception to railway property and passengers in Bihar. They have had to cancel a record number of trains following which there was no movement of trains during the daytime for three consecutive days. This is unprecedented, but also an acknowledgement that the Centre doesn’t trust Nitish Kumar anymore.
This Nitish Kumar vs PM Modi battle is getting murkier as every day despite BJP leaders’ requests to Nitish to announce a ten per cent reservation in recruitment in Bihar Police for Agniveers, there’s no response. Nitish Kumar’s supporters say announcing this will virtually mean endorsing the Central government’s new policy which will be inviting anger and protests against its own party leaders, which are so far limited to BJP.