| Opposition MLAs protest outside the Assembly on Wednesday. Picture by Deepak Kumar |
Patna, Feb. 20: Chief minister Nitish Kumar for the first time today lashed out at Markandey Katju, describing the Press Council of India (PCI) chairman as a man with “jaundiced eyes” and “utterly disrespectful” to the country’s constitutional and democratic institutions.
“He (Katju) came to Bihar twice to attend social functi-ons recently and picked up our government to attack without any rhyme or reason. He compared my rule with that of Dhana Nanda of the Nanda dynasty that preceded the Mauryan rulers. How can he compare a democratic dispensation elected by people with a monarchy that existed in hoary history?” Nitish as-ked. He was replying to a deba-te on the governor’s address to the joint session of the Assembly.
“He (Katju) has dialled a wrong number,” the chief minister said. “He (Katju) occupies the position of the chairman of the PCI — of course a constitutional body — and must have respect for other constitutional institutions. But he appears to be quite disrespectful to other constitutional and democratic institutions,” he clarified.
Earlier, Leader of the Opposition Abdul Bari Siddiqui in his address to the House had used a PCI report alleging “infringement on the freedom of the press” in Bihar by the government to attack Nitish. He demanded a debate on the report in the House.
Siddiqui and deputy chief minister Sushil Modi exchanged a verbal duel on the issue with the latter describing the report as an “illegal document”.
At his turn for the reply, Nitish said: “I have never spoken on what Katju has said so far. But you (Siddiqui) raised it on the floor of the House, warranting upon me to make a reply. Take it from me that there is not even an iota of evidence to suggest that I have ever called newspapers or channels to put pressure on them. It is not in my habit.”
Referring to the report alleging “muzzling” of the press in Bihar, he said: “No newspaper in Bihar has lodged any complaint about its gagging with the PCI chairman. He (Katju), on his own, made the allegation that the press was muzzled in Bihar. Then he constituted a fact-finding committee on his own allegations. And now, he is circulating the fact-finding committee report that has failed to secure the PCI’s concurrence,” the chief minister said.
“The PCI report was yet to have a legality, as it had not been approved by the council,” he added.
Nitish said: “It is a fact that unlike him (Katju), who had his grandfather, K.N. Katju, as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh and former governor of Bengal, I do not belong to rich parentage. Unlike his (Katju’s) ancestors who were illustrious, my grandfather was a small farmer and my father was a vaidya (ayurvedic doctor). But my humble background does not allow anyone (read Katju) to speak anything and everything about me. After all, I have got the mandate to serve the people through due constitutional process.”
The chief minister said he had never tried to infringe up-on the media’s freedom or had shown “favouritism” while awarding advertisements as alleged by the Opposition.
Earlier, replying to the allegation of the liquor Mafiosi controlling the liquor trade in the state leading to hooch tragedies, Nitish said: “The government was in the process of taking stern actions against the Mafiosi. We are very much in the middle of the process to identify the illegal liquor barons and send them behind the bars.”
He added: “The governm-ent will come as hard on the illegal liquor barons as it came on the Mafiosi involved in stone and sand mining. Bihar earned the first position in the country in its war against corruption. The war will continue, come what may.”
Without naming Lalu Prasad, Nitish said: “Of late he (Lalu) has been moving out and begging people to pardon him for what he had done in the past. I will never go to the people asking for their pardon, as I do not deliberately try to do anything wrong.”
In response to a short-notice question by BJP MLA Acchutanand, road construction minister Nand Kishore Yadav told the House that the Centre had not paid the Bihar government Rs 969 crore spent by the state towards maintaining of national highways between 2005 and 2011.