A day ahead of senior JD-U leader Nitish Kumar’s planned meeting with Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi to stake claim to form a new government in Bihar, a defiant chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi ruled out the possibility of resigning and challenged his rivals to a trial of strength in the Bihar Assembly.
Bihar was rocked on Saturday when Manjhi was removed as leader of the JD-U legislature party. The political crisis was triggered by Manjhi’s one-time mentor Kumar’s bid to stage a comeback.
A delegation of leaders from the JD-U and its allies RJD and Congress submitted letters of support to the governor's office on Sunday that said 130 MLAs were backing Kumar, who has been elected the new leader of the legislature party.
The JD-U delegation led by state party president Bashishtha Narayan Singh claimed the support of 24 RJD MLAs, five from the Congress, one of CPI and one independent. Leaders said Kumar will parade MLAs from his party and its allies before the governor on Monday to stake claim to form a government.
But a defiant Manjhi said he would not resign after a meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. He challenged his rivals in the JD-U to defeat him in a trial of strength in the assembly on February 20.
“I will prove majority in the assembly or step down if I cannot,” he told reporters.
"I'm not a rubber stamp – there is no question of my resignation…They (JD-U leadership) had this misunderstanding that they will make me do whatever they want me to do.”
He claimed he hadn’t discussed politics with Modi but had sought his help for the "situation" in Bihar. The Dalit leader said he was willing to accept anybody's support in the assembly to prove his majority.
Earlier in the day, he hinted about his intention of taking on Kumar by saying, “Manjhi ki nao kabhi nahin dubti hain (Manjhi's boat never sinks).”
Manjhi was hand-picked by Kumar as his replacement when the latter stepped down as chief minister last year after owning responsibility for the JD-U’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha polls.
The 243-member Bihar legislative assembly has 233 members as nine members have been disqualified and one member of the BJP died recently. Of the 233 MLAs, the JD-U has 111, BJP 87, RJD 24, Congress five, CPI one and five are independents.
Manjhi enjoys the support of more than a dozen JD-U legislators. He is banking on the support of the BJP, which has openly come out in his favour, and is also supported by three independents.
The BJP appeared to be in no hurry to commit itself to supporting Manjhi.
“This is an internal issue of the JD-U. We are nowhere in the picture. We want immediate elections. That is the best in the interests of the state,” Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the BJP’s chief strategist for Bihar, told Hindustan Times.
Nitish to parade his MLAs
The newly elected JD(U)LP leader Nitish Kumar is set to meet Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi at 1:30pm on Monday to stake claim to form the government, reported the Press Trust of India quoting 'highly placed sources in Raj Bhawan'.
The governor would reach there at 9:30am from Kolkata, amid hectic efforts by Nitish Kumar group to form a new government.
Tripathi accepts resignation of 20 cabinet ministers
In a late evening decision, Bihar Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi on Sunday accepted the resignation of 20 ministers of the state cabinet, who had put in their papers on Saturday.
"His Excellency has accepted the resignations of 20 cabinet ministers, which were submitted to him yesterday. The decision has been taken on the advice of Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi," Governor's Public Relations Officer (PRO) Sunil Kumar Pathak said.
The 20 pro-Nitish ministers had resigned 'in protest', when the proposal to authorise the chief minister to take appropriate decision at appropriate time for dissolution of the Bihar Legislative Assembly was brought by agriculture minister Narendra Singh at a meeting of the state cabinet. Singh is considered to be close to Manjhi
Eight other ministers had supported the proposal.
The governor had accepted Manjhi's recommendations to dismiss two ministers - Rajiv Ranjan Singh 'Lallan' and PK Shahi from the cabinet.
Following the dismissals, the strength of the Manjhi cabinet is only nine including the chief minister.
JD(U) national president Sharad Yadav had written to the Governor urging him him not to entertain the recommendations of Manjhi, who, he said, is in the minority.
(With PTI inputs)