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Nitish needs to handle the Muzaffarpur case much better

Politicians’ misuse of jails’ premises is not something new, and that the state’s capacity to check it remains weak, is a well-known fact, but the case warrants more seriousness from the government – from electoral point of view, too.

editorials Updated: Oct 29, 2018 11:03 IST
Hindustan Times
The main accused in the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, Brajesh Thakur(PTI)

As Bihar’s new chief minister in 2005, Nitish Kumar was like a breath of fresh air in the state’s rambunctious politics. He promised to go beyond the politics of identity by making the discourse more inclusive. He was all about good governance, and, within a short span of time, he did bring about a keen sense of real governance to a state which, for all practical purposes, had seen little of that since the 1990s. But that promise of better things to come lies in tatters today.

The Supreme Court’s (SC) Thursday order to move the main accused in the Muzaffarpur shelter home case outside the state is a serious blow to his reputation. The SC is monitoring the case, in which 34 out of 42 girl residents were sexually assaulted in a shelter home. The content of the CBI’s status report made the SC observe that the “details are terrible and scary... what is the Bihar government doing about it?”

According to the report, the main accused, Brajesh Thakur, had a mobile phone inside the jail from which he communicated with 40 people. When two CBI officers went to question him in jail, Mr Thakur fought with the jail superintendent for letting them in. The other accused, who were interrogated, were tutored by Mr Thakur as they gave identical answers to all the questions.

The misuse of jail premises by politicians is not something new. The state’s capacity to check it remains weak. But the case warrants much more seriousness from the government — even from an electoral point of view. Apart from that, it severely dents his reputation. The main opposition leader, Tejashwi Yadav, is in attack mode, using every opportunity to present Mr Kumar as a corrupt leader, not the leader known for good governance.

Mr Yadav, who was a minister under Mr Kumar for a few months, is keen to turn the issue into a moral case of Mr Kumar’s negligence of women. The CM, with his welfare measures like 50% reservation for women in panchayats, distribution of free cycles and uniforms for girl students, and prohibition of alcohol, has been popular among women voters.

Expecting Mr Kumar to overhaul an impoverished state’s administrative capacity in just a few years would be unfair but it would certainly serve his — and his state’s — cause well to at least play a more proactive role in cases such as Muzaffarpur’s. Already, having considerably slipped from the bargaining position in the state’s political hierarchy after many flip-flops with his alliance partners, he needs to utilise his resources well to continue to be known as “sushasan babu” (good governance babu).

First Published: Oct 29, 2018 11:03 IST