Solitary state

Nitish Kumar finds himself isolated as a rape case shakes up politics

Caught in the muddle: Chief Minister Nitish Kumar | PTI

THE MUZAFFARPUR RAPE case has unexpectedly changed the political situation in Bihar, following allegations about the involvement of Social Welfare Minister Manju Verma’s husband, Chandeshwar Verma. He has been accused of frequently visiting the Muzaffarpur shelter home where 34 minor girls were raped. The minister resigned on August 8, a day after Chief Minister Nitish Kumar warned that he would not spare anyone involved.

The main opposition party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, has called for the resignation of the chief minister. The Congress, which has been soft on Nitish, hoping to stitch together a grand coalition against the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, has also become critical of him. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav organised a candle-light protest in Delhi on August 4, in the presence of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, virtually announcing himself as the face of the ‘mahagathbandhan’ in Bihar.

The RJD supported the Bihar bandh called by the left parties, which turned out to be a success compared with several recent anti-government agitations. Spokespersons for the ruling Janata Dal (United) are having a tough time defending Nitish and the state government.

“Nitish Kumar has no moral right to continue,” said RJD state president Ramchandra Purve. “What happened to his high moral standards? The Muzaffarpur incident has tarnished Bihar’s image. We will continue our agitation till he quits.” The RJD has planned “militant’ agitations” from panchayat level to state level till January. It has set up an agitation committee under senior leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, to capitalise on the political turmoil in the election season.

The main accused in the case, Brajesh Thakur, whose NGO Sewa Sankalp Evam Vikas Samiti ran the shelter home, said on August 8 that the charges against him had no basis. “I am being falsely implicated as I was to join the Congress party soon and contest from Muzaffarpur,” said Thakur, while being taken to the district court in Muzaffarpur.

The JD(U) has rejected the demand for Nitish’s resignation. “The police arrested 10 of the 11 accused the very next day of registering the first information report. The government has readily accepted the opposition demand for a CBI investigation,” said party spokesperson Anjum Ara. “The chief minister himself has approached the High Court for a court-monitored investigation.”

The BJP supported the opposition demand for a CBI probe, and left it to the JD(U) to defend their coalition government. The BJP’s stance reflected its deteriorating relations with the JD(U). Although its president Amit Shah tried to patch things up with Nitish, an acceptable seat-sharing formula for the Lok Sabha elections has not yet been concluded. The BJP is under pressure to cede even some of its sitting seats to the JD(U) to save the coalition.

Ajith Kumar Chaudhari, spokesperson for the Bihar unit of the BJP, said the party condemned the rape. “The CBI inquiry is on,” said Chaudhari. “The RJD’s demand for the resignation of the chief minister is politically motivated. It is trying to make political gains out of this unfortunate incident.”