Unlike his previous terms when he lorded it over all his allies in the ruling coalition of Bihar, Chief minister Nitish Kumar has an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party to contend with now.
Thanks to their numerical strength in the state assembly, BJP leaders no longer seem to accept anything and everything from Nitish without demur. It is in sharp contrast to what they usually did for many years within the NDA in the state.
Now, each and every action of the Chief minister appears to be under the scrutiny of BJP leaders who do not keep quiet if they find anything at variance with their party’s avowed agenda and policies.
That is why Nitish had to face a barrage of dissenting voices from the saffron camp when he spoke against the idea of enacting laws to check the population growth. More than any statute, he thinks, it is the education of girls that will bring down the reproduction rate.
Referring to Uttar Pradesh’s new population policy for 2021-2030 which provides for various incentives for the individuals who help bring down the population growth, Nitish says that every state is free to do whatever it wants to arrest the population growth but “it cannot simply be controlled through laws”.
Nitish cites the example of Bihar, saying that the promotion of girls’ education has yielded the desired results in this regard. “If the girls are properly educated, the reproduction rate will automatically come down,” he says. “I am not in the favour of enacting any law to check population growth.”
But Nitish’s remarks on the Yogi Adityanath Government’s population policy evoked a sharp response from the BJP ministers. The State BJP president and party MP Sanjay Jaiswal counters Nitish by saying that a clear-cut policy will have to be made in the state to effectively check the population growth. “The initiatives of the UP government are commendable,” he says. “Its provisions, especially for those with one child are quite impressive. Such initiatives and policies need to be encouraged.”
Nitin Navin, BJP minister for road construction, also stresses the need for enacting a law to check population at the earliest. “How will we control population without any law?” he asks. “Rapid population growth is a big worry for the entire world but it is more acute in our country. It puts our resources under strain and also adversely affects various welfare initiatives and programmes.
Another BJP leader, Panchayati Raj minister Samarat Choudhary stresses the need for debarring people with more than two children from contesting the panchayat polls. “If a similar provision can be made in Bihar for the elections to urban civic bodies, why cannot it be done for the rural body elections as well?” he wonders.
Union minister Giriraj Singh points out that the population issue is linked to the issue of development, not of any religion or politics.
Senior JD-U ministers such as Vijay Kumar Choudhary and Ashok Choudhary defend Nitish, saying that it is not feasible to check population control merely through laws. “As far as population control is concerned, the Bihar model which lays stress on raising awareness of the girls through educating is the best,” says state JD-U president Umesh Singh Kushwaha.
BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Sushil Kumar Modi, however, advises the NDA constituents to refrain from making statements in public on the population policy. “It should be discussed among themselves as to how can population growth be checked to give a fillip to development,” he says.
Incidentally, Nitish was rarely at the receiving end of such dissenting voices from the BJP ministers during any of his previous tenures. Political observers believe that the poor performance of JD-U in the state assembly polls has emboldened the BJP ministers to speak out against him now.
In the November elections, JD-U could win only 43 seats, 31 less than its ally, BJP. As a result, BJP emerged as the big brother within their alliance for the first time and began to dictate terms.
However, on issues like uniform civil code, abrogation of Article 370 and construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, JD-U had always differed with BJP in the past. But the JD-U was the dominant partner then. Besides, Nitish had a perfect rapport earlier with all senior BJP ministers, be it erstwhile deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, state NDA convenor Nand Kishore Yadav or multi-term MLA from Gaya, Prem Kumar. They did not ever take on Nitish in a belligerent manner but none of them are part of his government now.
Hence, Nitish has to face the vocal young turks of the saffron party who have taken their place. They do not seem to be willing to cede even an inch to Nitish as far as their party’s agenda is concerned, whether it is the population policy or anything else.