The more Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar harps on "kanoon ka raaj (rule of law)" and good governance with the recent cabinet nod to 35 per cent reservation to women in state government jobs and a students' credit card scheme to help them pursue higher education or professional courses, the less convincing it sounds.
A deteriorating law and order situation, especially with surfeit of bank robberies, murder and extortion cases in the last two months have raised questions on security and governance. The bureaucracy and state police have been receiving instructions from two power centres, CM Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who according to Opposition BJP, is in the role of "Super CM". Congress, the third partner in the Grand Alliance, has been playing the role of a subdued and submissive partner content with its share of ministries. Congress education minister Ashok Kumar Choudhary has been "charmed" for all the wrong reasons - specifically for playing with snakes during a puja at his home.
Political experts call this a phase of transition for Nitish Kumar. Things do not seem to have settled for him as yet. The CM, though anointed by RJD chief literally or otherwise (dahi tika on makar sankranti day included), does not look in firm control as the RJD with 80 assembly seats as against JD (U)'s 71 has been pushing for its share of political power .
While RJD national vice president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh says it is the CM who is resposible for the law and order lapses since the home portfolio is with him, JD (U) leaders rebuff him by saying that Nitish Kumar has "proven record as CM who took Bihar from bad old days" and does not need "directions" from anyone including Lalu Prasad. The latter has expressed concerns after the killing of two road project engineers at Darbhanga last month and had spoken publicly about taking up the matter with CM.
While Nitish Kumar got back to business to fulfil his election promises - seven resolutions including the student credit card scheme and a monthly allowance to the youth for job opportunities as well as the 35 per cent reservation to women, his efforts often meet roadblocks from other quarters, giving the opposition BJP a readymade opportunity for early attacks
RJD boss Lalu Prasad has not denied tales of his instructing top officials. A recent Darbhanga case in which a civil surgeon made mention of Lalu's recommendation on reappointing four Mamata workers in Darbhanga hospital caused further embarrassment to the state government.
Though JD (U) may not have any problems with RJD chief calling the shots in the matter of ministries held by RJD ministers, Lalu Prasad going on-record with his "super position" is jarring for the Grand Alliance.
Lalu's message to the media and his alliance partners is clear about his paramount importance in the Grand Alliance government.
Fringe players like former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi have given their own theories of Nitish Kumar allowing Lalu so much bandwidth or as he puts it "voluntarily trying to defame Lalu".
Political wisdom doing the rounds is that" bad governance would only serve to discredit RJD". Nitish Kumar has been also playing parallel national politics by blowing hot and cold towards the BJP. The JD (U) sees Nitish as a potential PM face for 2019 in a muddled coalition situation, but that doesn't stop Nitish from praising PM Narendra Modi on his sudden Pakistan visit.
The state bureaucracy and police are a confused lot. Though ministries are divided between the three partners, no secretary can be sure that he or she will not get calls from Lalu Prasad. IPS officers are also getting orders from two places and are often confused.
While Lalu Prasad may well have conceded the CM position to Nitish Kumar, he knows that he is the bigger fish of the alliance. He also knows that it is Nitish, who is in driver