Former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has put the Nitish Kumar regime in a bind by refusing to vacate the CM's official bungalow at 1, Aney Marg in western Patna, even though 37 days have elapsed since Manjhi had to step down from the state's top post (on February 20).
Sources said Manjhi had taken the position he would vacate the CM's residence as and when his successor, Nitish, vacated his present accommodation at 7, Circular Road, located close to the Aney Marg house.
"Manjhiji's logic is just as 1, Aney Marg is marked as the CM's official residence, the 7, Circular road bungalow is earmarked for an ex-CM. As such, Manjhiji is its rightful claimant," said Bihar ex-minister and Manjhi associate Brishin Patel.
"The former chief minister's stand is absolutely reasonable and we all support it", said Patel, who, along with Manjhi, is a founder member of Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), a new front they launched on February 28 after a bitter power tussle in the ruling Janata Dal (United).
But Manjhi's recalcitrance has clearly left the government fuming.
"The bungalow at 1, Aney marg, is earmarked as CM's official residence. As a former CM, Manjhi, more than anybody else, ought to know the law and comply with its provisions," said Bihar parliamentary affairs minister Shravan Kumar.
Shravan Kumar dropped a clear hint that 'coercive action' was a possibility if Manjhi failed to see reason.
"Under Nitish Kumar's rule, law takes its own course, no matter how big any leader thinks he is. There can be no exception to this rule", the parliamentary affairs minister told HT Sunday afternoon.
One month from the date on which Manjhi relinquished office (on February 20) was time enough for him to vacate the CM's official residence, the minister insisted. "He is living there on borrowed time," he added.
Shravan Kumar, a close Nitish aide, doubles as chief whip of the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) in the Bihar assembly. JD (U) sources said the views expressed by him would be in close conformity with CM Nitish's views on the subject at hand.
Shravan Kumar had played a hand in Nitish's return as CM last month after Manjhi stepped down without taking a scheduled floor test in the state assembly to establish whether or not he enjoyed majority support in the house to remain chief minister.
He had done so by his efforts to keep Nitish's flock of MLAs together.
Giving another twist to this tale is a report suggesting that the authorities concerned had already allocated a third bungalow, at 12, Strand road, in the same locality, for Manjhi to move in after vacating the Aney Marg house.
But Manjhi, sources close to him said, wanted the Circular Road bungalow occupied by Nitish on the ground it was the one he was entitled to as ex-CM.
The current standoff is only the latest in a series of skirmishes between Manjhi and Nitish since the JD (U) leadership, on February 7, declared Nitish leader of the JD (U) legislature party and asked Manjhi to make way for him to take over as CM.
Manjhi refused, saying the leadership issue could be settled only on the floor of the Bihar assembly.
Thereafter, the governor fixed February 20 as the date of the floor test. But Manjhi quit that morning without facing the house, apparently because he was unable to muster the required numbers - 117 in the 243 member house the effective strength of which was 233, paving the way for Nitish to take over as CM on February 22.