The pace of development in Bihar can be gauged from the fact that it took nearly three months for the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to finally fill up his cabinet. This also meant that Nitish with a new team or the NDA as a winning political front weren't buoyed up with an agenda or action items to embark on immediately following the November 2020 election.
After being reinstalled in the CM’s position, it must have been “same-old, same-old'' for Nitish, although at one point he had seen his future threatened. He also claimed that he had accepted the position reluctantly. The people of Bihar also didn’t seem too excited at the continuation of Nitish into his 4th term or over his dull, uninspiring and routine cabinet formation.
To be fair to Nitish, however, the inordinate delay in the expansion of his cabinet wasn’t entirely his fault. As he made it amply clear he was waiting for the names of the approved BJP cabinet nominees to be delivered to him. He wasn’t free to choose all members of his cabinet; he only made sure his arch-critics weren’t taken in.
In the meantime, Nitish, whose morale had been shattered by Chirag Paswan (LJP), gathered some political boost: the Chainpur MLA Jama Khan, who had won the only seat for Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, announced its merger with the JD(U). By doing so, he became the only Muslim MLA of the JD(U). Nitish had fielded about a dozen Muslim candidates, all of them were defeated.
Another independent MLA from Chakai, Sumit Kumar Singh, who belonged to the influential upper Rajput caste, extended his allegiance to Nitish and pledged to support his government.
Both Jama Khan and Sumit Singh -- in their youthful 40’s -- were rewarded with a berth in the cabinet.
Earlier, after winning the assembly elections with a paper-thin majority, Nitish was sworn in with thirteen of his Cabinet members. Seven of the thirteen were from the BJP, including the two Deputy Chief Ministers -- Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, and five from the JDU. Of the remaining two, one was given to the son of Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) leader, Jitan Ram Manjhi in deference to his wishes (he didn’t want one for himself). The other one went to a defeated candidate, Mukesh Sahni, the founder of his own caste, Mallah (fishermen)-based Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP).
It’s worth recalling that both HAM and VIP were seen in Nitish’s camp because their last-minute pre-election negotiation aimed at aligning with the RJD had collapsed. Both Jitan and Mukesh had switched to the NDA. If they had stuck to the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan (MGB) alliance, the result of the 2020 election could have been different. The MGB fell short of the majority mark of 122 only by a dozen seats.
After all the caste-balancing exercise and long-term strategic moves involving transfers of Sushil Modi and Shahnawaz Hussain, a team of cabinet ministers is in place. Now, what to do with it? Does Nitish have a set of programs to be implemented in the first hundred days or six months or a year? Does the NDA have a vision it can rally people around? I’m sure they must be mindful Tejaswi had promised 10 lakh jobs on the first day of his Chief Ministership, a declaration that had gained traction bringing him almost to the cusp of victory.
Nitish’s cabinet members will be well advised to read the RJD manifesto closely and fulfill promises Tejaswi had made to the people. In addition to immediately filling up the 4.5 lakh vacant positions in the state government, he had pledged creation of 5.5 lakh jobs in medicine, education, engineering and police services.
Among the promises was also revival of all sick industries -- a promise that has been in the manifesto of every party since his father’s years. But this time around, the performance of Shahnawaz Hussain as the sole minister in-charge of industry will be in full public view. Any stagnation or deterioration will be taken full advantage of by a very formidable opponent. If industrial revival isn’t possible, alternate ways to economic growth will have to be found out.
Nitish appears to have taken his fledgling prohibition policy seriously as he has made Sunil Kumar, a JD(U) M.L.A. from Bhore and also a former IPS officer in charge of prohibition in the state. But as the Chief Minister in possession of home, vigilance and general administration portfolio for so long, he must have known by now the challenges of lawlessness in the state were too big for a former IPS officer or the administration as a whole. The state law and order problem tied to corruption in bureaucracy demanded a thoroughly new approach and one couldn’t be affirmative if Nitish was ready for that -- he has now been embroiled in the existing structure for a fairly long period of time.
In 2025, Nitish may not be seeking another term, but the BJP will have to secure a more popular mandate from the voters of Bihar to establish a government of its own. There was a lot more at stake for the BJP or the NDA and they couldn’t afford to be complacent or lethargic for five years.
At the end, every single day in the fourth term of Nitish’s Chief Ministership, there will be a troubling question in everyone’s mind: Why couldn't Nitish be the Narendra Modi of Gujarat or even Navin Patnaik of Odisha?
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.