A role for the Governor

Published : May 20, 2005 00:00 IST

Indications are that Bihar is unlikely to have a democratically elected government in the near future and President's Rule may run its course.

BIHAR Governor Buta Singh raised political hackles when he said that President's Rule in the State would last its tenure and, if required, would be extended. "It is true that there is no government of political parties in Bihar, but there is a constitutional government in place," he told mediapersons in New Delhi on April 26. The Governor added that he had information about political parties indulging in horse-trading and playing the communal card to secure a simple majority in the Bihar Assembly.

He went a step ahead and attacked the previous State government, headed by the Rashtriya Janata Dal's (RJD) Rabri Devi, wife of Railway Minister Lalu Prasad. "The administration did not run by any system. It was not run as per the Constitution or rules. The government was being run according to whims and fancies. ... I don't want to say it, but the people want this government [President's Rule] to last for a long time so that Bihar could be put back on rails," he said.

The Governor's statement came amid reports that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was trying to form the government by winning over disgruntled legislators of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), led by Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. "There are 110 MLAs who have reposed their faith in the leadership of [Janata Dal (United) leader] Nitish Kumar. There is a possibility of his forming the government very soon," V.K. Malhotra, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Deputy Leader in the Lok Sabha, said on April 26. However, the NDA would require the support of 12 more legislators to get a simple majority in a 243-member House. LJP legislators who desert the party are expected to help make up this shortage.

Apparently, Lalu Prasad was referring to this when he accused the BJP of trying to break smaller parties. "Rs.25 crores has arrived from Delhi for this purpose," he told RJD workers in Patna on April 15. Senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad said that a non-RJD government would not come to power in Bihar. "There has to be an RJD government or fresh elections. In case an RJD government takes over, Paswan's party can abstain at the time of confidence vote," he said.

In fact, of all the parties involved in the power struggle in Bihar, the LJP is at the greatest risk. "His party is new and the MLAs have no ideological base. Most of them are there because they were denied the ticket by other parties. Besides, most of them won on an anti-Lalu Prasad plank. So, for them, switching to the NDA is easier. There are 20 LJP MLAs who are in touch with us and they could shift loyalty any time," a senior Janata Dal (U) leader told Frontline. There are confirmed reports that on April 14 a group of LJP MLAs met NDA leaders in Patna.

Indications are that Ram Vilas Paswan is aware of the impending crisis. Recently, he dissolved the Bihar unit of the party and concentrated all powers in his hands. But outwardly, he has projected the image of an unfazed leader: "My MLAs are made of steel [alluding to his portfolio of the Ministry of Steel in the Central Cabinet] and nobody can split them. We are going to form the government in six weeks," he claimed.

But if the NDA is so confident of support from some LJP MLAs, what prevents it from presenting a list of its supporters to the Governor and stake the claim to form the government? The answer lies in the Jharkhand experience. Jharkhand Governor Syed Sibte Razi had initially refused to invite the BJP, despite the fact that it presented him a list of 41 legislators supporting it in an 81-member House. Buta Singh's political background in the Congress makes the NDA wary. Besides, even the current Assembly Speaker belongs to the Congress. Hence the NDA does not want to take any chances. "There are lots of things to consider before we make our move. We don't want a repeat of the Jharkhand experience," said a senior BJP leader from Bihar. The Governor's latest statement can only make the NDA more cautious in its efforts. Nitish Kumar, the NDA's chief ministerial candidate, said in Patna that he was not going to take the initiative to form the government now.

INTERESTINGLY, the Congress seems to be happy with President's Rule in Bihar. With a perceptible improvement in the law and order situation after the imposition of President's Rule and the administration's actions against criminals, including the ones in politics such as RJD Members of Parliament Mohammad Shahabuddin and Pappu Yadav, the party seems to be gaining popular support. Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee (BPCC) president Ram Jatan Sinha said: "The common people are heaving a sigh of relief now. Everyone wanted to get rid of Lalu Prasad in Bihar and the imposition of President's Rule. Even the judiciary said that Bihar was a fit case for the imposition of President's Rule. Now that has happened and if things improve it could do the party some good."

The Governor's no-nonsense attitude has also come in for appreciation. When President's Rule was imposed, there was jubilation in the RJD camp that Central rule would mean an RJD government by proxy. But that has not happened. In fact, small-time criminals with political patrons in the RJD were the first to feel the heat as the police rounded up over 20,000 criminals who were declared "absconding" during the party's tenure in power. Director-General of Police (DGP) Narayan Mishra confirmed that there was a "definite improvement" in the law and order situation. "There are criminal acts like kidnapping or murders even now, but they are sporadic and occasional, not like before when there was a spate of such activities," he told Frontline.

Prem Sankar Mishra, BPCC spokesperson, said: "If there is an improvement in the law and order situation and general cleanliness, then people would appreciate the Congress and that would help us in the long run." He said that with only 10 MLAs the party was in no position to take any political initiative. "We have no option but to wait and watch," he said.

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