The confusion and unseemly drama concerning the removal of Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi is acquiring the ugly look that politics in India is often known for. Additionally, this episode gives the impression that institutional arrangements for governance are not in place.
In the first place, Mr Manjhi was installed in office out of purely political considerations, which is not a healthy trend. Now he is being asked to step down, and to facilitate that he has been expelled from his party, the Janata Dal (U), because he has refused to oblige the party leadership.
To top it all, there is the distinct indication that though Nitish Kumar had stepped down as chief minister, he refused to let go, and skirmishes between Mr Manjhi and people loyal to Mr Kumar were played almost to script. Then bureaucrats too entered the fray, with Mr Manjhi complaining that his pious intentions were constantly bouncing off the brickwalls of a stubborn officialdom. All this does nothing but heighten the possibilities of horse trading and other forms of corruption, which each side is accusing the rivals of. The lessons of the Delhi elections and those elsewhere have somehow not travelled to Bihar.
All this is one aspect of the story. In deciding what the shape of things should be now, four institutions have been involved: The president, the Patna high court, the governor and the speaker of the Bihar assembly. Whether Mr Kumar had any justification in bringing his MLAs all the way from Bihar to the President’s house is something we are yet to discern. In such cases it is the governor who is the authority to refer to. The governor has asked Mr Manjhi to prove his majority in the assembly on February 20, but Mr Kumar has said that means giving him too much time. This is almost an admission that people in his party are susceptible to corrupt practices. And yet these are some of the people who will be his fellow travellers when he makes a bid for power later this year.
Our Constitution is built on the principle of separation of powers, i.e. the legislature, executive and judiciary have their separate domains of functioning. But the fact that the Patna high court had to step in to put on hold Mr Kumar’s election as the leader of the JD(U) legislature party shows how the lines of separation are getting blurred. Given these developments and now that the ball has reached the President’s court, Pranab Mukherjee should give clear instructions to the governor so that the matter ends amicably and no constitutional violation takes place. Governance has always been an issue in Bihar. It should not be allowed to suffer any further.