Patna: Bihar's people might have been unimpressed by his electoral campaign blitz, but the state's new lawmakers are still nursing a Narendra Modi hangover.
The first debate in the 16th Bihar Assembly on Monday turned out to be more of an assessment of the Prime Minister - with the BJP members extolling his "virtues" and the Grand Alliance leaders interpreting the state mandate as a message for him to "keep shut" and work for the countrymen - than a meaningful conversation on taking Bihar forward.
The House was scheduled to debate the governor's address on the policy priorities of the Nitish Kumar government, and the members could have raised issues concerning their constituencies. The only one to do that was the solitary RLSP member, Lallan Paswan, who vigorously flagged the acute drinking water crisis in his Chenari Assembly constituency.
"Women have to travel miles at Chenari, Soli, Chanodih, Daranagar and Rasulpur villages, pitchers on their head, to draw water for drinking from polluted water bodies," he said, requesting the Speaker to constitute a House committee to probe the problem and make suitable recommendations to the government. "The government is bragging about the growing rate of its GSDP (gross state domestic product). It sounds ridiculous in a state which still has thousands of women travelling miles in the hills and rugged terrains of Chenari in the Kaimur region for water."
Others chose to analyse the Prime Minister's conduct, and the message of the Bihar polls.
The new Leader of the Opposition, the BJP's Prem Kumar, praised the "benevolent" Prime Minister for the special package of
Rs 1.25 lakh crore to Bihar. The PM had given "top priority" to the construction and upkeep of the national highways, Prem
Kumar said, and had opened opportunities for the youth through the "skill development" scheme.
Though he did manage to kick up a storm, many observers felt Prem Kumar's address lacked the wit and spark of his predecessor, Nand Kishore Yadav, who was seen sitting silently.
Prem Kumar attacked the Nitish Kumar government for the "fast deteriorating law and order" situation in the state, and declared that the BJP was committed to building a Ram temple in Ayodhya - to which the Grand Alliance members took loud offence and collectively asked him to stick to the point.
When the ruling alliance members' turn came, they did not stick to the point either. RJD member Ramanuj Prasad Yadav trained his guns on the PM, accusing him of "fanning out in foreign countries to arrange funds for corporate houses". The Bihar verdict, Ramanuj declared, warrants that the PM "keep shut and work for the poor people". The PM, the MLA from Sonepur said, should work "for the restoration of socialism and secularism as enshrined in the Constitution's preamble".
"India's prestige is enhanced by the manner in which the Prime Minister conducts himself on foreign soil," he said. "No PM in the past was taken notice of as much as Modi is noticed in the foreign countries."
Ramdeo Rai, the Congress MLA from Bachhwara, quipped: "No PM has made a laughing stock of himself on foreign soil as Narendra Modi has."
The JDU and RJD members were not to be left behind in singing paeans to their leaders, and heaped praise on Nitish and Lalu Prasad for forging the Grand Alliance, which they said raised the "morale" of Bihar's deprived sections against the RSS-BJP's conspiracy to "abolish" quota for the disadvantaged classes.
Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi lashed out at Nitish and Lalu - without naming them - for "misinterpreting" Mohan Bhagwat's reservation remark. The RSS chief, Manjhi said, had merely spoken about a "review" of the quota system. The JDU and RJD members rose to shout him down.
"We made you our CM," Ramanuj hollered at Manjhi, "but you joined the team of conspirators who have traditionally been inimical to the cause of the underprivileged sections and friendly to rich business houses."
Chief minister Nitish Kumar was absent from the House during large parts of the debate though his deputy, Tejaswi, was present all through. Nitish is supposed to reply in the debate on Tuesday.