| Artist Subodh Gupta after being felicitated by chief minister Nitish Kumar at Eco Park in Patna on Thursday. Nitish inaugurated the works of four international artists, including Gupta, and felicitated them during Vriksha Suraksha Divas. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh n See Page 8 |
Patna, Aug. 2: Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary today announced the election for the post of deputy Speaker, casting a cloud on the 35-year-old tradition of giving the post to the main Opposition party.
The nomination papers will have to be filed tomorrow for the elections, which will be held on Monday. The post has been vacant since 2010.
Both chief minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy, Sushil Kumar Modi, remained tight-lipped over who the NDA’s candidate would be. “We will only comment on the issue after the nominations are filed,” Modi said.
The NDA appears to have come under pressure with the RJD announcing its decision to field its own candidate. A meeting this evening between Nitish, Modi and other senior leaders of the alliance remained inconclusive. “The decision has been deferred for tomorrow,” said a BJP minister.
JD(U) sources said the BJP was eager to have its man in the seat. Informed sources in the BJP said the person most likely to be fielded is its MLA from Ara, Amarendra Pratap Singh.
Singh is not known to be an admirer of Modi, the BJP’s poster boy in Bihar considered close to Nitish. Singh’s claim for a ministerial berth has been ignored with the BJP opting for another Rajput MLA, Ramadhar Singh, to be included in the ministry.
When Nitish’s statement that the NDA should have a secular prime ministerial candidate triggered off a war or words between the allies, it was Amarendra Singh, besides animal and fish resources minister Giriraj Singh, who stuck his neck out in favour of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.
At a rally in Buxar, Amarendra Singh had strongly pitched for Narendra Modi as the NDA’s candidate for the top job in the next general elections. BJP sources said that by making him the deputy Speaker, the party would like to send a message to all dissidents opposed to Sushil Modi. Amarendra Singh has given the Nitish government several embarrassing moments by asking uncomfortable questions inside the Assembly, pointed out a source. “By making him the deputy Speaker, the party will ensure that he is less vocal,” said a BJP legislator.
The Opposition is furious with the Speaker’s decision. “The Speaker has made this announcement under pressure from the chief minister. There has been no consultation with us regarding the name of the deputy Speaker,” said RJD chief whip Samarath Choudhary. He said the RJD would contest the post as a mark of protest against the “anti-democratic move” of the government. RJD sources indicated Ramanand Yadav would be fielded as the combined Opposition candidate.
The NDA brushed away suggestions of democratic niceties. “The RJD does not fulfil the criteria to be recognised as an Opposition either in the Assembly or in the Legislative Council as it lacks one-tenth of the total strength of the House. Yet our chief minister was instrumental in getting the status of leader of Opposition in the Assembly and the Council to Abdul Bari Siddiqui and Ghulam Ghaus respectively. Both enjoy the status of a cabinet minister. The RJD chief whips of the two Houses enjoy the status of minister of state. The RJD should not talk about tradition,” said NDA’s chief whip in the Assembly, Shrawan Kumar.
The NDA has a strength of 209 in the House of 243. The Opposition’s combined strength is just 28 (the rest are Independents).
The tradition of giving the post of deputy Speaker to the main Opposition party was started by Karpoori Thakur in 1977 when he offered it to the Congress and Radhanandan Jha got the job. Since then the tradition has been followed.
The Congress had the post even during the Lalu Prasad era between 1990 and 1995. Between 1995 and 2000, when the BJP emerged as the main Opposition party, the party’s Jagbandhu Adhikari was made deputy Speaker. From 2000 to 2005, the post was given to another BJP MLA Bhola Singh.
Even in the NDA-I regime between 2005 and 2010, the post went to the RJD’s Shakuni Choudhary. “Usually the chief minister takes the initiative and asks for names from the Opposition. The election of the deputy Speaker has been unanimous,” said state RJD chief Ram Chandra Purbey, who accused Nitish of “killing” a healthy democratic tradition.