NEW DELHI, Jan 24: Amidst talks that the Centre’s move to award posthumously “Bharat Ratna” to the Bihar socialist leader Karpoori Thakur was aimed at win backward class votes for the BJP in the coming Lok Sabha elections, the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and other leaders took jabs at the ruling party on Wednesday, the birth centenary day of the “Jan Nayak.”
Standing beside Mr Thakur’s son – Ram Nath, a Rajya Sabha MP from his Janata Dal (United) – Nitish Kumar stressed the JDU “been demanding the Bharat Ratna since Karpoori Thakur’s death in 1988.”
“Karpoori Thakur worked for the upliftment of all sections of society… the poor, the backward, and the most backward. He even banned liquor. We have been praising his work (and) started this campaign since his death,” Mr Kumar told reporters, “We have been demanding Bharat Ratna since the beginning.”
“He (Karpoori Thakur) never made his son his successor… but my brother (referring to Ram Nath Thakur) was a minister (from 2005 to 2010, in the second Nitish Kumar ministry) and is now in the Rajya Sabha.” The Bihar Chief Minister also took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, declaring he expected him to “claim full credit” for conferring the award on Karpoori Thakur. “I was told by Ram Nath Thakur… the Prime Minister had called him up after the announcement. The PM has not called me so far…”
“It is possible that he may claim full credit for the move,” he said, after an event this morning to honour Karpoori Thakur on his birth anniversary. Nitish Kumar’s comments have been seen as a fresh chapter in a race by Bihar politicians to claim credit for the award to Mr Thakur, with the BJP accusing the opposition of trying to profit from his legacy.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav, also a former protégé of Karpoori Thakur and ex-Chief Minister, had said the man remembered even today as ‘Jannayak’, ought to have received the award a long time ago. Mr Thakur’s son was earlier also part of the Bihar cabinet when Lalu Yadav was Chief Minister.
In his swipe at the BJP, Lalu Yadav pointed out the recognition for Karpoori Thakur came not only just before the Lok Sabha poll but also on the heels of a controversial state-wide caste-survey, which said over 60 per cent of the state’s 13.1 crore people were from backward or extremely backward classes. “… the centre (only) woke up when present Bihar government conducted caste census and increased scope of reservation for benefit of Bahujans,” Lalu Yadav, whose RJD is allied with the JDU, said on X.
The Congress has also chipped in, with party MP Rahul Gandhi acknowledging the “welcome” award but also insisting that a “true tribute” to Karpoori Thakur, and his efforts to improve the condition of marginalised communities, would be for the BJP to order a national caste census. “The country now needs ‘real justice’ not ‘politics of symbolism’,” he said.
The BJP has hit back via Union Minister Giriraj Singh, who said, “Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav played in the lap of Congress for years. Why did they not get this done?” Ravi Shankar Prasad, another BJP leader from Bihar, criticised “previous governments” of the state. “Some thought only about their own families. The Modi government thinks about the country. Someone might be our opponent… but if he has done something for the country, he will be honoured,” he said.
Karpoori Thakur, born on January 24, 1924, and who died on February 17, 1988, was the first non-Congress socialist leader to become Chief Minister of Bihar, a post he held twice in the 1970s. He is credited with beginning Bihar’s alcohol prohibition policy, back in 1970. He was inspired by heavyweights like Ram Manohar Lohia who spearheaded the socialist movement in post-Independent India, and, in turn inspired current leaders like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav.