Nitish Kumar’s gamble of resigning as Bihar chief minister, taking “moral responsibility” for the Janata Dal-United’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, seems to have paid off.
With 117 members of the JD(U) legislature party on Sunday asking him to take back his resignation, the CM has managed to re-unite the party and taken the wind out of the BJP’s bid to poach on his men and bring down his government.
Nitish, on his part, cited the “inappropriateness” of taking back his resignation. His message to the party: “Elect a new leader and leave me alone. If you want a JD(U) government in 2015, allow me to concentrate on strengthening the party from outside.”
But with the JD(U) insistent he take back charge, he sought time till Monday to convey his decision, party spokesman Sanjay Singh said. The party too deferred the leadership issue by a day.
The opposition BJP — which met governor DY Patil earlier and demanded he ask Nitish to parade his strength — saw the resignation drama as a shrewd political move in the face of rumours that several JD(U) legislators were in touch with the BJP to cross over and form a new government with its support.
Senior leader and former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi even alleged the JD(U) was “buying support” by handing out assurances and promises of power.
There have been reports for sometime now that given the desertions in the JD(U) in the run-up to polls and its failure to make an impact, a large section of MLAs were on the verge of walking over to the BJP.
By resigning, Nitish dared these dissidents and the BJP to make their move, but stopped short of recommending dissolution of the assembly. Should he “relent” and remain at the helm, he would now have the opportunity to re-pack his cabinet with loyalists.
The JD(U) still faces problems that can’t easily be papered over, made obvious by its national president Sharad Yadav earlier telling the media, “Nitish has resigned and it is up to the party legislators to elect a new leader.” The comment was seen by many as an attempt to split the party to the advantage of the anti-Nitish faction.
Also, the name of Narendra Narayan Yadav, said to be close to Sharad, was suggested as a possible CM.
But as the meeting progressed and the popular support for Nitish became clear, even the man seen as the main dissident leader, agriculture minister Narendra Singh, expressed full faith in his leadership and even volunteered to move a resolution for Nitish’s re-election.
Furthermore, Sharad’s suggestion that all socialists, including RJD chief Lalu Prasad, come together to beat the BJP came unstuck when Lalu denied such a move.
For now, Nitish faces no threat in the assembly that has an effective strength of 241.
With three RJD MLAs, who’d rebelled and been granted separate status, resigning, the threshold for a majority in the reduced 238-member House has been lowered to 119.
Nitish has 117 MLAs while the Congress’ four members, a lone CPI member and three independents support him.