'A Mere Coincidence?': Why BJP Ally JD(U) Remained Absent From the Bihar Assembly

It was perhaps for the first time in the history of the Bihar assembly that the ruling party's legislators didn't turn up, forcing the BJP speaker, Vijay Kumar Sinha, to adjourn the assembly proceedings.

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Patna: In an unprecedented move, legislators of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ally – Janata Dal (United) – remained absent from the Bihar assembly in the second half of the session on June 28, Tuesday, triggering speculations whether all is well within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

It was perhaps for the first time in the history of the Bihar assembly that the ruling party’s legislators didn’t turn up, forcing the BJP speaker, Vijay Kumar Sinha, to adjourn the assembly proceedings.

However, JD(U) termed this as merely a coincidence.

Sudarshan Kumar, JD(U) MLA, told The Wire, “I was in the assembly till lunch break. I left for my assembly area soon after lunch time to attend a funeral. I don’t know if such a thing happened.”

Another JD(U) MLA and minister Sunil Kumar told The Wire, “I was in the assembly till 2 pm. There were few more JD(U) MLAs as well. I can remember two to three fellow legislators [who were present there]. At around 2:20 pm I was called at the Council for passing an amendment.”

“When I came back at around 3 pm, the House had already been suspended. There was no call for boycott from my party. I left the assembly because of a proposed amendment at the Council. That’s it,” he said,

JD(U) MLA Dr. Sanjiv said, “It can be just a coincidence that all the JD(U) MLAs and ministers were not present in the assembly. I was not present due to an urgent meeting.”

The five-day monsoon session – which began on June 24 – saw Opposition leaders protesting against the Union government’s armed forces recruitment scheme, Agnipath.

Opposition MLAs on June 28 demanded an adjournment motion against the Agnipath scheme. However, speaker Sinha turned down their demand and the Opposition decided to boycott the session after the second half.

Leader of Opposition and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RLD) chief, Tejashwi Yadav, told the reporters, “We have demanded a debate on the Agnipath scheme but the speaker turned it down saying it is the central government’s scheme, so no debate can happen in the assembly. The speaker should be impartial.”

Eevn on the final day of the monsoon session on Thursday, June 30, uproar over Agnipath by the Opposition caused adjournment of the Bihar assembly within minutes of commencement of proceedings.

Also read: Bihar: RJD Poaches Four AIMIM MLAs, Becomes Single-Largest Party Again

Why JD(U) ‘boycotted’ the assembly

According to party sources, the JD(U) leaders skipped the post-lunch session on June 28 to boycott a debate proposed by the BJP on the “best legislator.” However, some sources also claimed that denial of discussion on the Agnipath scheme too had played some role.

On June 27, Monday, the BJP had proposed to discuss who was the “best legislator” in the Bihar assembly. However, chief minister Nitish Kumar expressed reservations over the proposed debate, saying that the “best legislator” can be selected by forming a committee. Therefore, there’s no need for such a discussion in the assembly.

On June 28, speaker Sinha had scheduled a debate on the election of the best legislator after lunch break, however all the JD(U) MLAs skipped the post-lunch session.

The Opposition – RJD, Congress and the Left – had already walked out of the assembly over the Agnipath scheme.

In the second half of the session, only 35 BJP MLAs were present, due to which the speaker had to adjourn the assembly.

Expressing disappointment over JD(U)’s absence in the assembly, speaker Sinha said, “I don’t know why most of the JD(U) members were not present. The issue which was to be debated, it was not going to harm any party.”

A JD(U) source said on June 27 that the speaker sought the support of the members by announcing separate chambers for MLAs in each block and district offices, which was objectionable and was an intrusion into the government’s jurisdiction.

“Though objections to the announcement of the best legislator’s selection was seen as the major reason for boycott of the assembly, the role of the Agnipath scheme cannot be denied. We got information that JD(U) had sent feelers to the speaker to allow discussion on the scheme but it was denied,” senior journalist Dipak Mishra told The Wire.

JD(U)’s stand on Agnipath scheme

The party has been critical of the Agnipath scheme since the day it was announced by the Narendra Modi-led government. The announcement of the new military recruitment scheme had sparked protests and violence across Bihar among other states. Several trains were set on fire. BJP offices were vandalised and its leaders chased.

So, it appears that the undeclared boycott of the assembly by JD(U) legislators was also a result of the speaker’s rejection of their demand to discuss the Agnipath scheme.

On June 16, JD(U)’s national president and MP Rajiv Ranjan (Lalan) Singh had tweeted, “Due to the announcement of the Agnipath scheme, the fear of dissatisfaction, despair and bleak future (unemployment) is clearly visible in the minds of the youth and students of the country, including Bihar. The central government should immediately reconsider this scheme because it is also related to the defense and security of the country.”

An old feud

This is not the first time when chief minister Nitish Kumar and speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha had disagreements over an issue in the Bihar assembly.

In March this year, the two shared a heated exchange of words over the investigation of the Lakhisarai case. During the question hour, Nitish had accused Sinha – who is the BJP MLA from Lakhisarai – of “unconstitutional conduct.”

Mishra said, “The relationship between Nitish Kumar and Vijay Kumar Sinha is still sour. It’s visible in the assembly that both are uncomfortable with each other.”