All eyes on Bihar Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha, now Covid-positive, now negative, in frequent run-ins with Nitish, RJD

With the numbers game starting in Bihar, one person whose actions will get the most attention is Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha. BJP MLAs – who have been at loggerheads with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the past – have already given an indication of what could happen, amid much-raised eyebrows, when the JD(U) and RJD on Monday held their first Steps taken, only to report COVID-negative within 24 hours, as the dice were rolled.

Then, on Monday night, after his speedy recovery from Covid, one of the first people to meet Sinha was a member of the assembly’s ethics committee headed by BJP leader Ram Narayan Mandal. While Mandal declined to give details, BJP sources said the report was about an incident in March 2021, when RJD legislators had taken the Speaker “hostage” and the police had to call the assembly. Sources said the report indicated about 18 MLAs.

As per procedure, these MLAs will receive notice on the advice of the Speaker, who can decide further course of action and even order disqualification. RJD is the single largest party in the assembly with 79 MLAs. Any change in the numbers will, of course, have repercussions on the extent to which the government takes power.

The incident dates back to March 23, 2021, when the Assembly passed the Special Armed Police Act, which empowered the police to search and arrest people without a warrant, amid protests by opposition legislators. The RJD MLAs reached Speaker Sinha’s chair, tore papers and surrounded his chambers, virtually taking him hostage inside. Police had to be called to remove the protesting MLAs, many of them being dragged on stretchers.

A Bhumihar leader, an engineer by qualification and a dedicated RSS worker, Sinha is the first Bihar president of the BJP. He was a surprising choice for the position and is believed to have been chosen essentially to keep the upper caste leadership of the party happy. A three-time MLA and former state minister, he has been winning from the Lakhisarai assembly seat since 2010.

In the latest instance of tension between them, Nitish had objected to the dropping of Sinha’s name in invitations sent to mark the anniversary celebrations of the Bihar Assembly. According to JD(U) sources, this was one of the reasons for Nitish to end his alliance with the BJP.

However, even before this, the Assembly had witnessed an unusual confrontation between the usually quiet Chief Minister and the Speaker. On 14 March, the two had a heated argument over whether the matter being probed by the government, which was also referred to as a privileges committee, could be taken up on the floor of the House repeatedly. Nitish expressed his displeasure when Sinha asked cabinet minister Bijendra Yadav to apprise the House of the steps taken for the second time in an incident related to the police crackdown in Lakhisarai. Lakhisarai is Sinha’s parliamentary constituency.

The incident involved an alleged violation of liquor prohibition law in Lakhisarai during Saraswati Puja by people associated with the BJP. Sinha claimed that “only spectators” were surrounded by police, while the organizers allegedly with JD(U) links were let off. BJP MLAs sent a privilege notice against Lakhisarai Deputy Superintendent of Police Ranjan Kumar and two SHOs for alleged misconduct with Sinha after he raised the issue.

After a tussle with Nitish, Sinha recused himself from the chair, with the CM meeting him later in the day for reconciliation. The next day, the Speaker referred to a poem by late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, ‘Kadam Mikal Chalna Hoga’, saying that the “kaala chapter (dark chapter)” should be closed and forgotten.

Weeks later, Lakhisarai got a new deputy superintendent of police.

However, Sinha has often misinterpreted the leaders of his own party. In March 2021, Deputy Chief Minister Tarkishore Prasad accused the Speaker of giving “protection (protection)” to Leader of Opposition Tejashwi. Sinha had reacted, saying: “Those who resolve to act transparently cannot keep everyone happy.”

The same month, Bihar House witnessed a confrontation between JD(U) Panchayati Raj Minister Samrat Choudhary and the president. Sinha had complained about the online reply not reaching his office. Chowdhary protested this, saying: “Being disturbed will not work”.

Chowdhury had offered an apology after Sinha stayed away when the House resumed proceedings after the adjournment on the remarks.

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