Patna: Mewa Lal Choudhary will go down as Bihar’s shortest-tenured education minister. Having been sworn in as a minister in the new Nitish Kumar cabinet Monday, Choudhary took charge of his department at 11 am Thursday, but he sent in his resignation to the chief minister within an hour, sources said.
Nitish had called Choudhary to his official residence at 1, Aney Marg, Wednesday evening, and sources in their party, JD(U), said the CM had informed him he would not be allowed to take over as a minister because ally BJP had objected to it. But Choudhary, the sources said, insisted he would take charge and then resign.
The BJP, the bigger party in the ruling NDA in terms of the number of seats won in last week’s assembly election results, claimed it was caught unawares that the JD(U) was making Choudhary a minister.
“When we looked at the JD(U) list of ministers just before the ceremony and saw Mewa Lal Choudhary’s name, we presented the facts about his past to (BJP national president) J.P. Nadda. He was stunned,” said a BJP leader who wished to remain anonymous.
On Wednesday, the opposition RJD had raised the issue of corruption allegations against Choudhary, and also released an old video in which he could be seen and heard fumbling the lines to the national anthem. The RJD questioned if CM Nitish had any “shame” left.
भ्रष्टाचार के अनेक मामलों के आरोपी बिहार के शिक्षा मंत्री मेवालाल चौधरी को राष्ट्रगान भी नहीं आता।
नीतीश कुमार जी शर्म बची है क्या? अंतरात्मा कहाँ डुबा दी? pic.twitter.com/vHYZ8oRUVZ
— Rashtriya Janata Dal (@RJDforIndia) November 18, 2020
Mewa Lal Choudhary was vice-chancellor of the Sabour Agriculture University before he joined politics. In 2016, massive irregularities were detected in the 2010 appointment of lecturers and scientists at the university.
Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP, who was then the leader of the opposition in the state legislative council, and before and after that, the deputy CM of Bihar, wrote a letter to the then-governor of Bihar, Ram Nath Kovind (now President of India), to probe the matter. The Bihar governor is ex officio chancellor of universities, and Kovind appointed a retired Patna High Court judge, Justice Mehfuz Alam, to investigate. Justice Alam found all the charges to be true.
Sushil Modi then demanded Choudhary’s arrest, and a case was registered by Bihar’s special vigilance bureau.
In 2017, Choudhary went underground to avoid arrest until he was given anticipatory bail. At the time, he was the MLA for Tarapur in Munger district, and was suspended by the JD(U). His wife Neeta Choudhary, who had held the seat from 2010-15, died in a gas cylinder blast in 2019.
This is why the Bihar BJP raised the issue with the party’s central leadership. “It would have been an embarrassment for us to explain why we remained silent when we were vocal in action against Choudhary four years ago, and the man who recommended the vigilance case is now the President of India,” said a senior BJP leader, who did not want to be identified.
But RJD MP and spokesperson Manoj Jha still taunted the BJP about its previous protests and the fact that its ally had managed to get Choudhary sworn in as a minister.
On the allegations against him, Mewa Lal Choudhary told ThePrint: “Nothing has happened. Many MLAs have cases against them. I have clarified the position of my case in the affidavit I filed with the nomination papers. The charges are yet to be framed.”
Why Nitish made him minister
The JD(U)’s move was all the more surprising because CM Nitish Kumar has himself had very little tolerance for tainted names. In 2005, when he took oath as CM, Jitan Ram Manjhi was sworn in as a minister, but dropped from the ministry the same day. Manjhi, who had been with the RJD till the year before, had a case pending against him, popularly known as the B.Ed. scam, which had taken place under Rabri Devi’s government.
Nitish Kumar ensured that Manjhi did not become a minister till his name was cleared by vigilance officials — Manjhi later went on to become chief minister of Bihar for a brief period.
Similarly, in 2010, Nitish did not make Ramanand Singh a minister, because he was facing charges of corruption in the purchase of items when he was a top official of the electricity board.
In 2017, the JD(U)-RJD-Congress ‘Mahagathbandhan’ government collapsed when the CBI sent notices to then-deputy CM and Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi’s son Tejashwi Yadav.
Politicians of Bihar don’t believe that Nitish was unaware of the cases against Mewa Lal Choudhary before deciding on his name for a ministership. But Choudhary belongs to the Kushwaha caste whose members, along with Kurmis and Extremely Backward Classes, are core voters of the JD(U).
After the JD(U)’s performance, winning just 43 seats compared to its formerly junior ally BJP’s 74, the number of Kushwahas who could be made ministers was low.
“It was an act of desperation as Nitish Kumar had to have a Kushwaha on the JD(U)’s ministerial list. Mewa Lal is close to Rajya Sabha MP R.C.P. Singh,” said a JD(U) MLA on the condition of anonymity.