For Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, it’s alliance dharma versus his prime ministerial ambitions in 2024. As his new sarkar with deputy Tejashwi Yadav faced the first major hurdle with Kartik Kumar being removed as law minister and ultimately resigning from the cabinet, it seems only a ‘compromise’ within the alliance can save the Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar.
It was a span of less than 24 hours in which Kartik Kumar was removed from his post and demoted to sugarcane minister before he finally quit the cabinet.
In an exclusive conversation with CNN-News18, Kartik Kumar revealed that he decided to resign as he was “fed up of debates on TV every day”. “The BJP had too many problems with me so I decided that once I get a clean chit, only then will I take any responsibility in the government,” he said.
Asked if his portfolio was changed because he had to appear before court in a kidnapping case, the former law minister said whatever the reason may be, the “party is top priority”.
“I will work for the party and will answer those who are criticising me. [Portfolio change] has nothing to do with court. Media is reporting one-sided news and this has led to negative campaigning. So, it is my duty to clear all confusion and only then I will see what needs to be done,” he said.
Kartik Kumar also rubbished allegations that Tejashwi Yadav was unhappy with him, saying the deputy chief minister never opposed his minister-ship “otherwise I wouldn’t have become a minister twice”. “Because of me, the party’s image is tarnished and some are campaigning against me so I resigned,” he reiterated.
Kartik Kumar’s resignation gave the much-needed ammunition to the BJP, with leaders such as Amit Malviya and Sushil Modi attacking the JD(U)-RJD combine on Twitter. “Kartikeya Singh seems to have more self-respect than Nitish Kumar,” Malviya tweeted, while Sushil Modi said: “Nitish Kumar is clean bowled in the first over. Kartik Kumar is the first wicket down, many are in line.”
Sign of early trouble between new allies?
RJD sources had said Kartik Kumar holding the law portfolio would not send across the right message as an arrest warrant was pending against him in the 2014 kidnapping case. Before this, Nitish Kumar, who has been vouching for his ‘Sushasan Babu’ image, was already in a huddle with ally RJD over the ‘Jungle Raj’ image. Recent ADR reports reveal that of 17 ministers from RJD, 15 (88 per cent) have declared criminal charges against them. The report also suggests that criminal cases are pending against 23 MLAs.
For the Mahagathbandhan, it has been a rocky start. Within a week of forming the new government, heinous crimes reported in several districts have raised questions over the law-and-order situation in the state. To add to Nitish Kumar’s headache, four ministers hit headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
It started with Environment Minister Tej Pratap Yadav being seen with his brother-in-law in a departmental meeting. Agriculture Minister Sudhakar Singh is facing charges in the 2013 rice scam, while Food and Consumer Department Minister Leshi Singh had to bear the brunt of her own party MLA Bima Bharti, who accused the minister of extortion and murder. In the fourth instance, Cooperative Minister Surendra Yadav has been charge-sheeted by a POCSO court in Gaya.
Apart from these, there are several other tainted ministers in the cabinet who will become a worry for Nitish Kumar at a time when he is trying to project himself as the prime ministerial candidate for the 2024 polls.
On his part, Tejashwi Yadav has been trying hard to change the image of the party — given that many from the 90s remember the RJD as being synonymous with jungle raj. The deputy chief minister is enthusiastic about bringing development to Bihar, providing employment to the desperate youth of the state and working for all sections of society.
Nitish Kumar, at least in optics, is extending his support to the 32-year-old new generation deputy CM, who is also the younger son of Lalu Prasad.
As the new government faces political turmoil at the nascent stage of its inception, it will be interesting to see how the new allies gel with each other and if Nitish Kumar’s gamble of tossing old ally BJP for the RJD helps further his prime ministerial dreams.