PATNA: Too upset by the lingering casteism in the bureaucracy and politics in Bihar’s districts, a block development officer (BDO) placed under suspension has threatened to convert to Islam unless the state government reinstates him to his post by February 7.
The plight of Manoj Kumar Agrawal, the suspended BDO of Ramgarh Chowk block in Lakhiserai district, appears to have been caused by the continuous one-upmanship games that caste groups and political parties engage in for supremacy.
“Being a Hindu and having to work for the government under such toxic conditions now means honesty will invariably make one the victim of caste politics,” said Agrawal, a Bihar Rural Service (BRS) officer who started work as BDO in 2013, to this newspaper.
The officer, who belongs to the Hindu caste of Bania (traders) and is the son of a well-known freedom fighter from Begusarai, has written to Bihar’s rural development department secretary Arvind Kumar saying he would convert to Islam unless he is reinstated in his job.
“If it does not happen (reinstatement), I will renounce Hinduism, which is full of casteist feelings and deep contradictions and convert to Islam,” he wrote in his letter. The suspension order, he said, was issued without he being given an opportunity to present his case.
Agrawal was placed under suspension on charge of abusing his position, availing himself of personal gains, working contrary to the rules framed for people’s representatives, disobeying departmental orders and misinforming senior officials.
According to people familiar with the case, Agrawal’s hasty suspension was the result of the smouldering tensions between two ministers from the area – Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh of JD(U) and Vijay Kumar Sinha of ally BJP – and that between local politicians from the upper-caste Bhumihar and the OBC Kurmi communities.
“Ever since Agrawal joined as BDO in Ramgarh Chowk in June 2018 following Sinha’s recommendation, he was considered a ‘Bhajpayi adhikari’ (BJP-backed officer) and was not liked by Lalan Singh’s supporters. The BDO’s strictness with corrupt and inefficient panchayat secretaries was resisted by Lalan’s supporters,” said a senior official familiar with the episode.
Sources said rural development minister Shravan Kumar of JD(U) ordered Agrawal’s suspension despite Sinha meeting him to say that the BDO has been an honest, hardworking official.
Agrawal had requested the district magistrate to transfer two panchayat secretaries who were allegedly taking 12 per cent commission from development funds. While both were transferred, they did not hand over charge and material such as cashbooks, cheque-books and registers to their successors. When Agrawal kept reminding them, the duo allegedly asked local JD(U) leaders to lobby for his suspension from service.
“The suspended BDO should place his grievance in the proper forum instead of speaking to the media,” said Lakhiserai DDC Vinay Kumar Mandal, who previously worked as the private secretary of Lalan Singh.