Bihar’s new Agriculture Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Sudhakar Singh is fast gaining a reputation for candour and plain-speaking, but his headline-grabbing comments have left the new Mahagathbandhan government red-faced on more than one occasion.
On September 25, the 46-year-old Mr. Singh while addressing a group of farmers in his constituency, asked them to beat officials who demand bribe with shoes. Earlier, on September 13, his statement that his department officials are thieves and he is head of thieves ( choron ka sardar) had caused a major embarrassment to the government. Later, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said he had asked Mr. Singh about his problems in the Cabinet meeting, but he didn’t respond and walked away.
Mr. Singh, a Delhi University graduate, is son of State RJD president Jagdanand Singh and is a first-time MLA from Ramgarh in Kaimur district. For some time, he was with the BJP too. The young legislator is known for his simplicity, straight-talk and being close to his constituents. “The problem is that when you are with the Opposition you keep raising people’s problems but once you become part of the government, you get disconnected from the same people. I’m not going to let that happen. I’ll keep raising grievances of the people of my constituency, and of farmers, whether it is liked or not”, Mr. Singh told The Hindu over phone. “Being an Agriculture Minister of the State, can someone tell me why I should not flag issues of farmers? And that too, when 80% of our State’s population is dependent on agriculture?” asked Mr. Singh.
On Sunday, while addressing a group of farmers at a girls middle school in Bhagwanpur in his constituency, he was told about some of his department officials demanding bribe from farmers on one pretext or another. “Beat such employees with shoes,” the Minister shot back instantaneously.
Mr. Singh visits his constituency every Saturday and Sunday to hold four to five meetings with local people to know about their grievances. “If they [people of his constituency] cannot expect me to solve their problems, where else would they go? It is my responsibility to hear their grievances and attempt redressal,” he said. “When I visited my constituency last Sunday I received complaints about some department officials seeking bribe from three different establishments. I asked them to beat such officials with shoes”, he added.
Mr. Singh also stressed that despite three agricultural roadmaps by previous governments there was hardly any improvement in grain production in the State. “In 2011-12, our total grain production was 1.77 lakh tonnes but in 2021-2022 we produced 1.76 lakh tonnes and this is despite spending crores on much-hyped five-year agricultural roadmaps”, he said while adding, “The third agricultural roadmap (2017-2022) is going to be completed in months but the achievement so far is zero”. These roadmaps were kicked off with much fanfare in the State.
He said grievance redressal has been lacking in the State for farmers in the last 17 years (Nitish Kumar has been CM since 2005), underlining that there are no redressal cells at headquarter or district-levels where farmers could air complaints related to seeds or fertilizers. On Sunday, he publicly announced his mobile number and asked farmers to call him directly if they have any grievances.
On September 12, while addressing a public event in his constituency, Mr. Singh said all his department officials are “thieves and thereby being head of the department he is head of the thieves”. When asked about the CM’s statement on the issue, he replied, “Being a Minister, I am not supposed to disclose what happened in the Cabinet meeting but the CM has violated this. Still I stand by what I had said,” Mr. Singh said.
Alliance party JD(U) leaders too have said if Mr. Singh has any problem he should discuss it with the Chief Minister directly instead of causing embarrassment to the government from time to time.
“I’m answerable only to the people of my constituency who have elected me and my party chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. Whatever direction I get from my party chief I’ll follow. But I cannot stop raising issues of farmers being an Agriculture Minister,” he stated emphatically.