Frontier, 19 June 1971
“An. honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought” –Simon Cameron.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of ‘honest politicians” in Bihar; in their absence the ministerial kaleidoscope has changed once again.
On June 2, 1971, the Congress-led Progressive Vidhayak Dal comprising the CPI, the PSP, the Forward Block and a faction of the Jharkhand, the Hul Jharkhand, the Hindustani Shoshit Dal, the Shoshit Dal and some Independents plus a number of defectors replaced the 162-day-old Samyukta Vidhayak Dal Ministry comprising the Congress (O), the SSP, the Jana Sangh, the Swatantra, the Janta party, the BKD, the Hul Jharkhand and the Shoshit Dal.
The downfall of the SSP-led SVD Ministry did not come all of a sudden. It was a certainty ever since December 22, 1970 when Mr Karpoori Thakur was sworn in as the Chief Minister of this ill-fated State which has been in the cesspool of instability since the fourth general election in 1967.
Even the 162-day tenure — from December 22, 1970 to June 1, 1971 — was rather a long term for the Karpoori Ministry which was expected collapse during the budget session of the Assembly meeting as the constituents of the ruling SVD had suffered a debacle in the wake of the mid-term parliamentary poll. This numerical setback had a psychological effect as well.
However, the Government managed to survive, thanks to the premature and unbusiness-like toppling bid of their political opponents and the gimmicks of the Socialist Chief Minister who felt an urgent need for expanding his Cabinet just before the opening of the session.
The Ministry has been facing a serious crisis since the April convention of the Samyukta Socialist Party, the leading partner in the ruling SVD, after which the party’s 52-member front in the Vidhan Sabha faced dissension and desertions.
A series of defections of legislators, mostly from the Congress (0) and the SSP, and the resignation of as many as nine Ministers were followed by the revival of the ‘mini-front’ – a loose alliance of groups of the BKD, Jharkhand, Hul Jharkhand, Shoshit Dal and some independents which had been instrumental for the fall of many ministries in the past.
Some gentlemen changed their loyalties thrice within 21 weeks. Mr Jagdeo Prased of the Hindustani Shoshit Dal, who was a staunch supporter of the Progressives, discovered one fine Sunday morning that his erstwhile colleagues were heading towards dissolution of the Vidhan Sabha. He decided to support the Samyukta. But on Monday he found out his earlier formulation to be “reactionary”. Hence, he re-joined the Indira Congress bandwagon.
In the face of the imminent fall, the Chief Minister, Mr Karpoori Thakur, who had declared only two days earlier, “I am not a coward to resign without facing the Assembly”, had to bow down without a fight. He had to submit the resignation of his Ministry only two hours before the Assembly was due to meet to discuss a no-confidence against it.
The defections which caused the Samyukta’s downfall had obviously been engineered by the Progressives. Mr Karpoori Thakur and other SSP leaders made a scathing attack on the Ruling Congress leaders, particularly the Prime Minister.
In a press statement Mr Thakur made a specific reference to the activities of Mr Yaspal Kapur, the “Prime Minister’s emissary”, as being “responsible for engineering defections from the SVD.” He alleged that Mr Kapur had offered various inducements and made promises to probable defectors.
However, no tears will be shed over Karpoori’s defeat. It is the price the SSP has had to pay for making opportunism its creed and power its main aim. The Ministry, like all the coalition ministries in the past, had made itself a laughing stock by indulging in mere gimmicks.
Corruption in high places had become the talk of the town and casteism was practised in its most naked form. In postings and transfers of Government officials a lot of favouritism was indulged in, further breaking the backbone of the already battered administration.
Almost every policy decision of the SVD Government bore the imprint of the thinking of its reactionary alliance the Jana Sangh, the Swatantra, the Syndicate and the Janta Party. Mr Thakur’s ties with the Syndicate were no secret.
It is said that even transfers and postings of officers were decided in the drawing room of the State Syndicate boss, Mr S. N. Sinha. Besides campaigning in the last election to the Lok Sabha for three of the Congress (0) leaders indicted by the Aiyer Commission of Inquiry, Mr Thakur appointed an ‘Aiyerite’ the chairman of the State Finance Corporation.
But these things were no hurdle in the way of the Karpoori Thakur Ministry which somehow managed to pull on, thanks to the unending expansion of the Cabinet, which reached a record strength of 53 in six expansions during five months.
The PVD Government led by Mr Bhola Paswan Shastri the ninth to assume office since the last general election and the fifth since the mid-term poll to the Vidhan Sabha in 1969. A mathematical calculation reveals that with the two spells of presidential rule extending up to 15 months, the average life of a ministry in the State comes to a bare four months.
It is the peculiar phenomenon of ‘permanent’ ministers which is primarily responsible for the political in stability in Bihar. Because of the composition of the State Legislative Assembly in which no party commands an overall majority, independents, defectors and mini-parties find an excellent opportunity to fish in troubled waters.
Unprincipled elements and power seekers have found an excellent opportunity more than once to sell their legislature membership highest bidder. As soon to as some legislators find that the Government they are supporting is on the way out, they quickly jump the fence and get on the bandwagon of a probable winner.
Although party leaders are never tired of tall talk about the need to put down defections, defectors always welcome and offered very tempting terms are generally
Thus, a political situation is developing in Bihar in which some people have come to occupy the position of permanent ministers. No matter which ministry is formed, they will become ministers because of their extraordinary ability to defect and re-defect.
Such permanent ministers want the fullest facility and freedom to misuse their power and create havoc in the administration. If any Chief Minister tries to exercise his supervisory powers, the stability of his ministry is immediately threatened. And when one set of ministers are left free to do what they like, naturally the other ministers cannot be controlled.
The net result has been a virtual competition in the misuse of power, especially in the matter of transfers, postings and promotions of officers and grant of licences and permits.
The new PVD Government, described as “Defectors Government” by Mr Suraj Narayan Singh, floor leader of the Indian Socialist Party and the CPM’s joint front in the Assembly, claims the support of 177 members in the House, which has an effective strength of 312.
The Congress (R), the largest constituent of the alliance, claims to have increased its strength to 112 following the inclusion of about 30 defectors.
Two different views are being expressed about the stability of the new Government. According to some political pundits, Mr Bhola Paswan Shastri can look forward to a longer spell as Chief Minister this time. (He is heading a Government in Bihar for the third time).
The present coalition is stronger than any he led before because of the participation of the ruling Congress. However, another section of pundits differs. They feel that the Ministry, which is no different from its predecessors in the matter of patronage of habitual defectors, cannot last long.
So far, the people of Bihar are concerned the change in the ministerial kaleidoscope will hardly make any difference because of the phenomenon of ‘permanent ministers’.