Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Tuesday dug in his heels on the issue of population control, making it clear that he preferred to control demographic explosion by educating and empowering women.
The assertion of Mr Kumar, who is the de facto leader of the JD(U), an NDA ally, assumes significance in the wake of a clamour for a law by the BJP which is pushing for a population control policy in some of the states ruled by it like Uttar Pradesh and Assam.
“Our experience in Bihar speaks for itself. There has been a notable rise in the proportion of women who complete high school or pursue higher studies. There has been a corresponding decline in fertility rate,” he told reporters in Patna.
He was replying to queries from journalists after addressing a function where he inaugurated 989 health projects with a total value of Rs 2705.35 crore.
“A woman who is educated feels empowered to take decisions. We had observed long ago that in families where the wife has studied beyond high school, the fertility rate was healthier. We have therefore given a fillip to educating the girl child. This is going to be our way forward. I do not wish to be drawn into what other states are doing,” replied Mr Kumar.
The Chief Minister’s stand comes less than a month after a demand by some BJP legislators in the assembly that recommendations of the Karunakaran Committee, which favoured debarring those with more than two children from contesting municipal and panchayat polls, be implemented in Bihar.
Earlier, a categorical demand from state BJP chief Sanjay Jaiswal that Bihar too should have a population control law, shortly after the Chief Minister had come out with his different take on the issue, had exposed the ideological differences between the BJP and the JD(U).
Although Mr Kumar, whose party was earlier known as the Samata Party, has been a BJP ally for close to three decades, he has maintained an ideologically distinct position on the BJP’s pet issues like Ayodhya, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code.
Recently, his stance on population law, caste census and Pegasus controversy was viewed with some consternation in the BJP camp.
The JD(U) maintains that this has nothing to do with the close ties it shares with the BJP. Mr Kumar’s detractors, however, claim otherwise.
LJP leader Chirag Paswan, who has of late centred his politics around attacks on the Bihar Chief Minister, recently claimed that Mr Kumar was singing a tune different from the BJP since he had plans to push the state towards a mid-term poll.
The LJP leader, who has been receiving some sympathy from the opposition camp despite his being non-committal on severing ties with the BJP, has sought to rake up the old rivalry between Mr Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the JD(U) leader’s former Gujarat counterpart.
He has claimed that by rubbishing demands for a population law, forcefully calling for caste census and advocating an inquiry into allegations of phone-tapping, Mr Kumar has been demonstrating his “Prime Ministerial ambitions”.
However, after Tuesday’s function, the Bihar Chief Minister ducked queries about the meeting in Delhi where opposition leaders are understood to have chalked out a strategy to take on the BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
“I have nothing to do with it,” was the curt reply of the JD(U) leader, who was once seen as a “secular alternative” to PM Modi.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)