Amid the growing divide between the BJP and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on the issue of caste census, the saffron party has started asserting itself more aggressively, asking its leaders to hold ‘janata durbars’.
As both ruling parties – the BJP and the JD (U) – head towards a showdown over the caste census, they are willing to use even an apolitical programme like janata durbar to browbeat each other, a political analyst said on condition of anonymity.
With the JD (U) national council passing a resolution that Nitish has all the qualities to become prime minister, the risk of more sparks flying between the allies has only grown, he added. It is altogether another matter that Nitish claims he has no wish to become PM and is also not in the race for the post.
Although there is nothing new in the BJP holding janata durbars, what adds to its political significance is that it has been made mandatory for ministers to devote one day at the party office for solving problems of workers and common people.
When Nitish revived his janata darbars after a gap of more than five years, nobody expected the BJP to follow suit so soon. Nitish held his first janata darbar at his residence (1, Anne Marg, Patna) in April 2006 after coming to power in November 2005. The programme became a regular event even as around 300-400 people, on an average, turned up for redressal of their grievances by the CM.
Officially known as ‘Janata Ke Durbars Mein Mukhyamantri’, the programme was suspended in 2016 after the introduction of the Public Grievance Redressal Act, 2015. Following its revival, janata durbars are now held on three Mondays every month.
The JD (U) has also asked its ministers to hold janata durbars four days a week.
After Nitish restarted the durbars, the BJP also revived its own version of the outreach programme, known as ‘Sahyog Karyakram’.
Although the BJP revived the programme at the national level in March, revival of it in Bihar smacks of political overtones, said another political observer. There is more to the BJP’s decision than meets the eye, particularly in view of the timing, he noted.
Bihar BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel said that the state unit of the BJP was the first to start Sahyog Karyakrams in the country, only a few months after Nitish started his janata durbar in 2005. He said that now the party central leadership has asked other BJP-ruled states to either start or revive Sahyog Karyakrams.
Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Tarkishore Prasad, like his predecessor Sushil Kumar Modi, is also holding janata durbars at his residence in Patna every Tuesday.
Why Parties Are Holding Darbars?
Political analyst Dr Sanjay Kumar said that by holding its own durbars the BJP wants to prevent Nitish from taking full credit for the growth of the state. He said the BJP also intends to instil a sense of confidence among people that it is fully capable of heading a government if it is given the mandate to do so.
The BJP is preparing to form the government in Bihar by replacing JD (U), he said, adding that BJP is also of the view that people’s anguish is against Nitish and not against it.
Additionally, the BJP wants to create an impression among people that it is not only capable of formulating policies but also of implementing them.
Political analyst Indrajit Singh said that the JD (U)’s demand for a caste census in cahoots with the RJD has fuelled speculation over a mid-term poll.
“Caste census has triggered realignment of political forces, opposed to kamandal forces,” he said. “In such a fluid political situation, janata durbard could be yet another political weapon for a party to improve its electoral chances.”
Another ally of the ruling NDA in Bihar, the Hindustani Awam Morch (HAM), headed by former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, has also decided to hold janata durbars.
HAM spokesperson Danish Rizwan said that around 150-200 people visit the party office in Patna with their problems every day. The HAM durbars will start from September 7. Asked why so many people come to his office when Nitish as well as the BJP are also holding durbars, he said people have “faith” in his party.
Taking a dig at the CM’s durbars, leader of opposition Tejaswi Yadav said: “Nitish Kumar is a chief minister of officers, not of common people. This programme, started with such fanfare, is eyewash.”
State Congress’ media cell chairman Rajesh Rathod said: “Chief minister should clarify how many applications were received at janata durbars held from 2006 to 2015, justice was meted out to how many applicants and how many applications were disposed of.”
How Have The Durbars Helped Nitish?
Nitish has often been accused by his political opponents of depending too much on the bureaucracy, but the durbars give him an opportunity to directly reach people.
The revival of the durbars has brought to fore administrative lapses in providing benefits to people. At one recent durbar, the CM instructed senior officers to tone up the administrative machinery after lapses were exposed in the implementation of the grievances redressal act.
In Bihar the Right to Public Services Act and Right to Public Grievances Redressal Act have been in force from August 15, 2011, and July 16, 2016, respectively. The first act is intended at guaranteeing legal rights to people to avail benefits of government schemes within a stipulated time frame.
The second act empowers people to approach competent authorities if they are denied benefits of government schemes within the stipulated time frame.
However, many people are not fully aware of these acts. They fall into the trap of middlemen to get their work done. Officers’ laxity have also been found in providing benefits to people. Lack of adequate number of officers is another reason for the uneven implementation of the acts.
In such a situation, the durbars open a window for common people, who can expect their problems to be solved followed the CM’s intervention.
Have Durbars Helped Nitish Politically?
Nitish had faced strong anti-incumbency in the last assembly election, exposing the wide difference between people’s expectations and the government’s ability to meet them.
“Of course, janata durbars are helping Nitish politically as they keep the confidence of people in his leadership high,” a JD (U) leader said. He said the durbar helps Nitish reach a wide spectrum of people, belonging to all castes.