With the induction of three more faces — Ram Kripal Yadav, Giriraj Singh and Rajiv Pratap Rudy (all BJP) — the number of members from Bihar in the Union ministry has gone up to seven. Add Dharmendra Pradhan — an Odisha leader who is a Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar — and the figure touches eight. Eight ministers from a state that sent 31 NDA MPs to Lok Sabha can be called a “fair” representation. “But in terms of weight, both the erstwhile NDA led by A.B. Vajpayee and the UPA dispensation had better representation from the state,” said a senior JDU MP on condition of anonymity.
Also, nobody from the state has made it to the top five slots — home, defence, external affairs, finance and railways — in the Modi government. George Fernandes was defence minister and Nitish Kumar railways as well as surface transport minister minister in the Vajpayee government. In the first Manmohan Singh government, Lalu Prasad was railway minister and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh rural development minister. The latter even scripted the UPA’s 2009 re-election through successful implementation of the flagship MNREGA scheme, which guarantees employment in the hinterlands.
Prime Minister Modi, who understands Bihar’s intricate caste arithmetic and played the caste card to the hilt during the Lok Sabha poll campaign, has got the caste balance right in his cabinet expansion too, apparently with an eye on next year’s Assembly elections in the state.
He has picked Ram Kripal Yadav — identified with Lalu Prasad’s caste and Mandal politics — in a calculated effort to counter-balance the maverick RJD chief, who still enjoys iconic stature among his caste-men, who constitute 15 per cent of voters in the state.
That Modi was keen to make inroads into Lalu’s bastion was evident when he said that since Dwarka was in Gujarat and Lord Krishna the God of Yaduvanshis (Yadavs), he (Modi) had a natural claim over them. Modi also restrained from making any attack on Lalu during his whirlwind campaigns in the state before the Lok Sabha polls. Ram Kripal’s induction is seen as a move to draw the numerically preponderant Yadavs further.
Giriraj Singh’s selection as Union minister of state, too, is based more on caste than merit. Giriraj belongs to the upper caste Bhumihar community that voted for the BJP-led NDA but failed to find representation in the first swearing-in ceremony in May.
But for hailing from the Bhumihar caste, Giriraj has proved more an embarrassment than an asset to the party. In the run-up to the elections, he had said that those opposing Modi would have to go to Pakistan after the election, giving rivals a handle to suggest the comment was directed at the minorities. Many party insiders felt it was the reason for the BJP’s poor show in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region. Later, in July, the police recovered cash of Rs 1.14 crore, $600 in currency notes and jewellery worth over Rs 10 lakh from thieves who had stolen it from Giriraj’s Patna home. The episode showed Giriraj and the party in poor light as he had mentioned having just Rs 1.5 lakh cash in hand in the affidavit filed at the time of filing his nomination for elections.
What, apparently, made Modi choose him over other Bhumihar MPs was his being relatively younger. C.P. Thakur and Bhola Singh are over 75 — an “ineligibility” according to Modi.
Another entrant on Sunday is the soft-spoken and suave Saran MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who was a minister in the Vajpayee government. He defeated Rabri Devi in Saran this year, earning a claim to the Modi ministry. By inducting him, Modi has, apparently, strengthened Rudy in Saran — a stronghold of both Rajputs and Yadavs.
Senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi congratulated the newly nominated ministers from Bihar and thanked the Prime Minister for giving adequate representation to the state in his ministry. In fact he saw one more Bihar man among those inducted on Sunday when he tweeted: “JP Nadda newly inducted Cabinet Minister was born & brought up in Patna.His father was VC of Patna Univ.Congrats.” Nadda is a Rajya Sabha MP from Himachal Pradesh.
But the Congress found Sunday’s inductions lopsided. Congress spokesman Premchand Mishra said: “Brahmins and Dalits have been ignored in the Modi ministry.”
- The Telegraph, Calcutta