Bihar became the battleground in a power struggle between chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and his mentor, Nitish Kumar, as the ruling Janata Dal (United) appeared headed for a split on Friday.
At least a dozen people were injured as supporters of the two factions clashed on the streets amid speculation that the party was contemplating a change of guard by replacing Manjhi with former chief minister Kumar.
Refusing to resign, Manjhi declared the legislature party meeting called by JD(U) president Sharad Yadav on Saturday “unauthorised” and instead asked legislators to meet on February 20, possibly at his residence.
He also threatened to dissolve the cabinet and dropped two pro-Kumar ministers, banking on the support of over a dozen MLAs, and the BJP, which is openly backing him.
“He does not have the right to do so,” said state JD (U) chief Bashishtha Narain Singh.
Experts say so long as the chief minister does not resign on his own, the only way to remove him from office is to defeat him on the floor of the Bihar assembly.
According to constitutional lawyer Basant Chaudhary of the Patna high court, this is the law, as established in the Supreme Court’s judgement in the SR Bommai vs Union of India case from 1994.
“This judgement, binding on all concerned under Article 141 of the Constitution, holds whether or not the chief minister, as leader of the House in a state assembly, enjoys the confidence of the House can only be established through a floor test,” he said.
Manjhi took umbrage at JD(U) general secretary KC Tyagi asking him to quit and termed him “Naya Yamdoot”, or new messenger of death, for the party, while daring the pro-Kumar camp to dismiss him.
He also called Tyagi a “Rakshas”, or demon, while describing Nitish Kumar as Bhishma Pitamah from Mahabharata, who had no inkling of ground realities.
“It is the silence of Bhishma that has led to this Mahabharata,” he said. “They did not even ask me before they fixed the date for the legislature party meet. I told them, I respect them. But have they shown any respect for me?”
Manjhi, who was brought in as a stop-gap arrangement after Nitish Kumar quit in the wake of JD(U)’s Lok Sabha debacle, also announced plans to visit New Delhi and possibly meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ostensibly to discuss stranded central funds.