Bihar’s Powerful Babus Causing Tension Between Nitish Kumar And Ally RJD?

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Oct 5, 2022 05:23 PM +05:30 IST
Bihar’s Powerful Babus Causing Tension Between Nitish Kumar And Ally RJD?Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav.
Snapshot
  • RJD ministers have started asserting themselves and some are trying to put the bureaucrats in their place. 

Bihar’s all-powerful bureaucracy has emerged as a major point of friction between Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his new ally — the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). 

The newly-inducted RJD ministers have started complaining to the party leadership against the lopsided powers that the bureaucrats, especially senior IAS officers, wield. 

It is well known that bureaucrats in Bihar have thrived and become all-powerful with Kumar’s patronage. Most ministers have little powers and the departments they head are virtually run by the bureaucrats. 

All these powerful bureaucrats report to the Chief Minister’s secretariat where all powers are concentrated. Kumar has, ever since he became the Chief Minister in November 2005, concentrated all powers in his hands. 

The BJP, which had always tried to keep Kumar in good humour earlier, generally accepted his centralised and highly personalised style of functioning when it was an ally of the Bihar politician. 

A few BJP ministers had, in the past, been quite resentful of Kumar giving unbridled powers to bureaucrats to run departments. But the BJP leadership did not allow such resentment to spill out in the open and upset Kumar. 

But the RJD, which is the dominant partner in the ruling coalition now, is not willing to allow Kumar such leeway. RJD ministers have started asserting themselves and some are trying to put the bureaucrats in their place. 

This, admit both RJD and JD(U) leaders, is causing a lot of friction and bitterness between the two allies. 

A few RJD ministers are learnt to have explicitly told their departmental secretaries and other senior babus of the departments under them to bring all files to them instead of sending them to the Chief Minister’s secretariat. 

They have reportedly told their department secretaries and other babus who ought to report to them to stop communicating with the CM’s secretariat over their (the ministers’) heads. 

These RJD ministers are learnt to have made it explicitly clear to the babus of the departments they head that they should not receive any instructions from the chief secretary or additional chief secretary. 

If and when necessary, the babus have been told, the ministers will take up important matters directly with the Chief Minister instead of going through bureaucrats. 

As a result, the bureaucrats who have been ruling the roost till now are quite upset. And they have taken up the issue of assertion by RJD ministers with chief secretary Amir Subhani and additional chief secretary S Siddharth. 

Kumar, who has always had his way in running the state and enjoys concentrating all powers in his hands, is not happy with the RJD ministers upsetting the applecart and trying to assert themselves. 

Senior RJD leaders told Swarajya that Kumar had casually taken up this issue with his deputy Tejaswi Yadav as well as RJD supremo Lalu Yadav on a couple of occasions. 

But both have told him (Nitish Kumar) that ministers will have to be allowed the freedom to run their departments and interference by the CM’s secretariat has to be curbed.

The RJD leadership feels that ministers, and not bureaucrats, should run the government and take the final decision on all issues. 

It has been the general practice in Bihar for departmental secretaries to send all important files to the CM’s secretariat for vetting even after their ministers’ approval. The CM’s secretariat has, on many occasions in the past, overturned the decisions of ministers.

Senior bureaucrats of all departments often report directly to the chief secretary and the additional chief secretary who heads the CM’s secretariat. They often bypass their own ministers to take orders directly from the chief secretary and additional chief secretary. 

Kumar, of course, is briefed in detail by the chief secretary and additional chief secretary about the goings-on in all departments. 

“Nitish Kumar has always preferred to communicate to his ministers through his trusted bureaucrats. He gives instructions to the chief secretary or additional chief secretary about matters pertaining to a specific department, and the two top bureaucrats pass those on to the departmental secretary who then informs the minister concerned about the chief minister’s instructions,” a BJP leader who was a cabinet minister in the last (seventh) Nitish Kumar ministry told Swarajya over phone from Patna. 

This former minister admitted that Kumar’s style of functioning used to cause a lot of heartburn among senior ministers. 

“But for the sake of running the coalition government smoothly, we used to keep quiet. Only when things used to get out of hand with some bureaucrats exceeding their briefs and trying to browbeat ministers would our leadership take the matter up with Nitish Kumar. But generally, Nitish Kumar and his trusted bureaucrats used to run the government and most ministers had limited powers,” the former minister said. 

The RJD, clearly, is unwilling to go along with this arrangement. Kumar is well aware that he cannot afford to antagonise his senior coalition partner. 

But that does not mean that Kumar will change his style of functioning drastically and overnight. That will put him at loggerheads with his assertive RJD ministers. 

Ultimately, however, Kumar will have to bow down before the RJD. The redeeming part (for Kumar) is that he will not continue as the Chief Minister for very long and will have to make way for his deputy — Tejaswi Yadav. 

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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