The BJP leadership said on Saturday it would want the Bihar governor to accept a recommendation from chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi to dissolve the state assembly and hold fresh elections at the earliest.
“The BJP believes it is essential to hold fresh poll to end the situation of flux arising out of the JD (U) infighting, which is taking a heavy toll on governance," leader of the opposition in the state assembly Nand Kishore Yadav told HT.
Yadav was enunciating the party stand after he and BJP legislature party leader Sushil Modi had a meeting with BJP president Amit Shah in New Delhi to take stock of the emerging Bihar situation.
Even though Manjhi secured his cabinet’s approval for a resolution to recommend the dissolution of the Bihar assembly, speculation was rife he was not in a hurry to present it to the governor.
Sources claimed there was a possibility he would try to continue in office and try to prove his majority in the forthcoming budget session of the state assembly which is slated to begin February 20.
This possibility came up as legal opinion suggests the governor may, under the 1994 Bommai case ruling of the Supreme Court, be duty bound to explore the possibility of alternate government formation.
Manjhi would require the support of 117 MLAs to cross the half-way mark in the event of a confidence vote in the assembly, the effective strength of which is 233 at present. Ten seats are vacant.
The BJP, with its 87 MLAs may be prepared to back Manjhi, provided he marshals the support of another 30 MLAs to scale the simple majority mark.
Political circles in Patna were abuzz with the report that Manjhi was in the process of ordering the sacking of 15 more pro-Nitish ministers after the governor dismissed road construction minister Lalan Singh and forest minister PK Shahi on his recommendation.
“The idea is to induct 15-20 MLAs in the ministry, who would increase his support base to over 30 MLAs, enough to scale the halfway mark in the assembly with the BJP’s support,” a source with knowledge of the developing scenario said.
However, at 7.30pm on Saturday, a Raj Bhawan spokesperson said no such proposal had been received.
Another source said the Manjhi camp also had to fend off a likely bid by ex-CM Nitish Kumar, elected leader of JD(U) legislature party at a meeting convened by JD (U) chief Sharad Yadav, to stake a claim to form a new government.
For this, it was expected to secure the backing of RJD MLAs (24) and the Congress (4) in addition to over 100 out of 111 JD (U) MLAs who were present at the meeting at which Nitish was elected leader.
However, BJP’s Yadav said as per his reading, the governor should accept Manjhi’s resolution as he continued to be the ‘leader of the house’ in assembly, a position to which he had been elected in May last year.
“Till proven otherwise, Manjhi may be deemed to enjoy majority support in the Bihar assembly”, Yadav said.
As such, the BJP reading of the situation is that the governor would ask Manjhi to continue as chief minister in caretaker capacity till fresh elections, normally due in October, were held.
“It will normally take the election commission at least three or fourth months to hold elections in Bihar. That is fine with us”, said another BJP leader in the loop of the emerging scenario.
Sources said the BJP would ideally like to keep Manjhi afloat at chief minister, in caretaker capacity, so as to send out the message that it had held high a dalit chief minister at a time when arch rival, JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar, had to dislodge him.
At over 20% of the Bihar electorate, dalits will play a very important role in determining the outcome of the elections and Manjhi has over the past months emerged as their tallest leader.
“Having synergy with Manjhi in the run-up to the poll would be just what the doctor ordered," said a BJP source.
He said the BJP would not prefer president’s rule as the same would be seen as de facto BJP rule and burden the party with possible anti-encumbency in a state that holds a crucial position in its scheme of things.
Rather nearly 10 months ahead of the full term of the assembly, having Manjhi at the helm with its support would put the BJP in a unique position to guide the course of the poll without inviting the taint of incumbency.