Bihar floor test on February 20, HC rains on Nitish parade

  • Vikas Pathak, Arun Kumar and Anirban Guha Roy, Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Patna
  • Updated: Feb 12, 2015 10:20 IST

Bihar governor Keshari Nath Tripathi late Wednesday asked chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly on February 20, as the prolonged political crisis in the state appeared to be entering its last lap.

The decision came on a day the Patna high court put on hold Nitish Kumar’s election as the JD(U) legislative party leader. The former chief minister also met President Pranab Mukherjee, accompanied by around 130 MLAs as evidence of his majority in the state assembly.

Kumar — joined by Janata Dal (United) president Sharad Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav — urged the President to make Tripathi take a quick decision on the fate of Bihar assembly.

“We have a majority. There is likely to be horse-trading. A floor test should be done immediately,” Kumar said. Prasad supported him.
The high court’s ruling bolstered Manjhi, who was expelled from the party two days ago after refusing to make way for former mentor Kumar. The Mahadalit leader had been handpicked by Kumar to replace him after suffering a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha polls.

Bihar assembly has 111 JD(U), 87 BJP, 24 RJD, five Congress and a lone CPI MLA, with other independents. With an effective strength of 233, the magic figure is 118.

Sources added a no-confidence vote could be held before February 19, as demanded by Manjhi.

The Bihar assembly has 111 JD(U), 87 BJP, 24 RJD, five Congress and a lone CPI MLA, with other independents. With an effective strength of 233, the magic figure is 118.

The state is crucial for both Kumar -- looking to claw back to power leading a secular coalition with an OBC-Muslim base – and the BJP that wants to win the image battle after a humiliating defeat in Delhi. Bihar goes to the polls later this year and a saffron loss would bolster the perception that the Modi wave had ebbed.
A section of the BJP feels the impasse is likely to end in a split in the state, with an OBC-Muslim coalition on one side and an upper caste – Dalit alliance on the other.

For now, the BJP has adopted a wait-and-watch approach, expecting a rich harvest of Dalit votes to add to its upper-caste core base but doesn’t want to make Nitish a martyr by “breaking” his party. While Dusadh leader Ram Vilas Paswan is already an ally, the BJP senses Mahadalits may shift to it en bloc if Manjhi is an ally.

“It is an internal matter of the JD (U). But why is Nitish Kumar in such a hurry? Does he have no faith in the governor and his own MLAs?” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told HT. “We will take a call on our position during the floor test when we come to it.”

Though Kumar says 97 JD(U) MLAs are with him, BJP leaders claim more are deserting the former chief minister. If he gets BJP’s support, Manjhi needs 31 JD(U) legislators to survive the floor test.

The state plunged into crisis last week after Manjhi refused to vacate the CM’s position for Kumar, expelling a string of ministers close to Nitish instead.

Manjhi, meanwhile, has unveiled a raft of pro-Dalit measures, terming JD(U)’s treatment of him an insult to the Mahadalit community, a sub-group of 21 out of 23 castes recognised as scheduled castes in Bihar. SCs constitute 16% of the state’s population.

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