The political drama in Bihar will see a finale on Friday with chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and his mentor-turned-foe Nitish Kumar battling it out on the floor of the House.
Adding more spice to the story in a late evening development on Thursday, Bihar assembly speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary withdrew his earlier decision under which he had taken away the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) status as the main opposition thereby creating a piquant situation where the government in power was also the main opposition.
In fact, there will be no recognised opposition during the trust vote. Sources also said around midnight that there is a possibility of division of votes or secret ballot.
Chaudhary had granted the Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) the status of the principal opposition party against the government led by Manjhi in place of the BJP and recognised Vijay Kumar Choudhary as leader of the Opposition in the House ahead of the floor test.
The crisis in the state started after Manjhi was expelled from his party, the JD(U), after refusing to step down from the chief minister's post to make way for Nitish Kumar and is now an unattached member of the assembly.
But it became a regular war since February 7, when the JD(U) legislature party re-elected Kumar as its leader and showed Manjhi the door.
Kumar believes that Manjhi, whom he nominated on May 20, had derailed Bihar’s growth and, more importantly, consorted with the BJP to put the JD(U) in real danger in the 2015 assembly polls.
Kumar asked governor Keshari Nath Tripathy on February 9 to swear him in within 48 hours and demonstrated the support of 130 MLAs – his own 97, plus RJD’s 24, Congress 5, CPI one and independent one —in Delhi. He even expelled Manjhi and suspended rebel ministers.
But the ever submissive and grateful Manjhi turned out to be the real rebel, refusing to quit unless defeated in a floor test. Manjhi claims to have mustered the support of at least 43 JD(U) MLAs — 12 more than the 31 required — to add to the 87 BJP legislators.
In a house of 233 — with 10 seats vacant — the magic mark is 117.
The BJP on Thursday lent its support to the chief minister and has issued a whip to its MLAs to vote in support of Manjhi in the floor test, which he said was aimed at avenging the insult meted out by Kumar to a Mahadalit, the poorest among Dalits.
"BJP will stand with chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and vote in his favour if there is a confidence vote tomorrow (Friday)," senior party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said.
Thursday brought bad news for Manjhi as Patna high court refused permission to four MLAs owing allegiance to him to cast their votes in floor test. It also dismissed a petition by minister Vinay Bihari to keep Speaker Chaudhary away from the trust vote.
As both sides made last-ditch efforts to mobilise MLAs to their sides, JD(U) MLA Sharfuddin dropped a bombshell alleging before the media that Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Pappu Yadav had telephoned him offering money and a minister's post if he supports Manjhi during the floor test.
"Pappu Yadav called me on my mobile and tried to lure me into supporting Manjhi by promising all sorts of things. He said I will be given a minister's post, money and whatever I wish for if I vote in favour of Manjhi during the confidence vote," Sharfuddin claimed with state party chief Basistha Narayan Singh by his side.
The MLA also played a purported recording of the phone call and said that he was staunchly with Nitish Kumar.
Pappu Yadav denied making the call and said he was prepared for any kind of inquiry.
"I do not know Sharfuddin. I have nothing to do with him," he told PTI.
Asked if he was working in Manjhi's favour despite RJD's stand to support Nitish Kumar, the MP said, "I am working to save only the poor. I am not an MLA who can mobilise legislators in favour of somebody. I have merely appealed to legislators to vote after hearing their conscience."
His conduct has not gone down well with RJD and Lalu Prasad's son Tejaswi Yadav reminding him that he is the party's Lok Sabha member.
Manjhi in his last public engagement before the confidence vote virtually dangled the carrot of ministerial berths to garner support from MLAs. Speaking at Garib Swabhiman Sammelan here, he appealed to the people to request their MLAs to support him.
"You all should request your MLAs that they should support me if I have not done anything wrong in thinking about the poor. If they are going against me for becoming ministers, tell them I too have many such vacant posts. I will also make them ministers," he said.
Later, he presided over a meeting of his cabinet, second one since Wednesday, and approved many proposals.
The Patna HC had allowed him to take decisions but had directed those be implemented only after February 21.
JD(U) chief whip Shrawan Kumar on receiving notification from the Speaker issued a three line whip to all its 110 MLAs, including Manjhi to vote against the confidence motion.
"Despite being expelled from the party and being declared unattached member, Manjhi is binded by whip and if he violates it that it could cause his disqualification from the house," Shrawan Kumar, a former parliamentary affairs minister and a close aide of Kumar, told PTI.
He said except for the speaker, the three line whip in accordance with 10th schedule of Constitution (pertaining to Anti-Defection Law) has been issued also to seven ministers still in the Manjhi cabinet.
All the seven ministers have been suspended from the party.
The RJD and Congress, who are supporting Nitish Kumar, have also issued whip to their members.
Considering volatality of the situation, Patna senior superintendent of police Jitendra Rana said elaborate security arrangements have been made inside and outside the assembly.
(With PTI inputs)