BJP-JDU partnership on edge in Bihar after Agnipath debacle

20 June, 2022 | Vaishali Sharma

Violent protests against the recently announced 'Agnipath' plan in Bihar, as well as protests targeting the offices and homes of key Bharatiya Janata Party officials, have revived simmering tension...

Violent protests against the recently announced ‘Agnipath’ plan in Bihar, as well as protests targeting the offices and homes of key Bharatiya Janata Party officials, have revived simmering tensions between the saffron party and its ally, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United.

Apart from JD(U) president and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s objection to the initiative, the BJP’s silence on the matter has sparked controversy. The saffron party said that its coalition partner has not only kept silent, but has also failed to provide officials instructions on how to deal with demonstrators.

A day after his house was attacked by protesters, Bihar BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal hit out at the administration for allegedly giving a free hand to rioters. He held the Nitish Kumar-led coalition government responsible for what he termed as targeted attacks on BJP leaders in the state. “When protestors attacked my house in Bettiah district on Friday, we called the fire brigade…they said fire tenders would come only if the local administration allows it,” a visibly upset Jaiswal told reporters.

The state BJP chief said “targeting people at the behest of the administration and torching offices of a particular party with police as mute spectators are unacceptable”.

“We are part of the ruling alliance, but something like this has not happened anywhere in the country. It is happening only in Bihar. As a leader of the BJP, I condemn this incident and if this is not stopped, it won’t be good for anyone,” he said.

Reacting to Jaiswal’s comment, JD(U)’s national chief Rajiv Ranjan alias Lalan Singh, said, “The central government took a decision. There are protests in other states too. Young people are concerned about their future, so they came out to protest. Of course violence is not the way. We can’t accept violence. But the BJP should also listen to what is worrying these young people and their concerns. Instead, the BJP is blaming the administration,” Ranjan said in a video message.

“What has the administration got to do with all this? A frustrated BJP is blaming the administration over its inability to contain the anger of the agitators. Protests against this scheme are taking place in several BJP-ruled states also. Why is Jaiswal not talking about the inaction of security forces in BJP-ruled states ?” asked Singh. 

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Renu Devi’s house and several BJP offices were also vandalised by the protesters on June 17.

Poll strategist Prashant Kishor 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 counter accusations,” he tweeted in Hindi.

The Union Home Ministry, expressing its discontent with Kumar, granted Y-category protection to ten politicians in the state, including two Deputy Chief Ministers and a slew of MPs.

The railroads also blamed the train delays in a series of news releases on the current law and order situation in Bihar, as well as the perception of a threat to railway property and passengers. The worrisome law and order situation caused the Railways to cancel an unprecedented amount of trains, effectively halting rail traffic for three days.

The BJP, on the other hand, has mostly stayed careful in its response to the demonstrations, particularly when it comes to the state’s handling of the crisis. The BJP’s strategy for dealing with riots and maintaining peace and order in the state has proven to be ineffective. This may be compared to BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana, where state governments have taken swift and strong action against agitators, arresting them and destroying their houses.

Nitish Kumar has been at differences with the BJP recently on a number of topics, the most recent of which being the JD(U) chief’s statement that the state will undertake its own caste census because the Centre would not.

Meanwhile, he has been re-establishing contact with the RJD, with whom he has previously severed and restored connections.

Before the upheaval on Agnipath, the two factions appeared to have settled into an uneasy truce. Kumar continues to ignore the BJP’s repeated demand that the Bihar Police announce a 10% reservation for Agniveers in recruitment. Making the statement will imply that he is embracing the central government’s plan, which will inevitably result in outrage and demonstrations directed against his own party leaders.