Senior Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar seems set to return as Bihar chief minister with incumbent Jitan Ram Manjhi failing to secure unconditional support from the BJP that remains unsure about his numbers for the February 20 trust vote.
Manjhi, sources say, may resign on the floor of the house before the confidence motion is put to vote – as Atal Bihari Vajpayee did in 1996. BJP strategists feel allowing Nitish to take over serves their interests better than Manjhi continuing.
“We have already exposed Nitish Kumar’s hunger for power at the cost of a Mahadalit leader. Even if we were to support the Manjhi government, he wouldn’t be able to deliver much and it may backfire on us. Even Nitish can’t deliver anything in such a short time,” a senior BJP leader told HT.
The beleaguered CM needs the support of 117 MLAs to prove a majority in the House that has an effective strength of 233 but the BJP – with 87 legislators – is not sure if Manjhi can cobble together the other 31 votes.
Moreover, governor KN Tripathi did not allow the Mahadalit leader to expand his council of ministers, an exercise that could have helped the beleaguered CM gather more numbers.
For the record though, the BJP kept its cards close to its chest, saying it would announce its strategy on the floor of the house. “We will sit in opposition whether Manjhi remain the CM or someone else,” BJP’s legislative party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said.
The state was thrown into a crisis earlier this month after Manjhi was expelled from the JD(U) for refusing to vacate the CM’s position for his former mentor. The JD(U) has 111 MLAs, around a hundred of whom are said to be with Nitish.
BJP leaders in Delhi seemed reconciled to Nitish’s return, saying Manjhi would get more sympathy by becoming a martyr. Saffron party strategists said the BJP had already received whatever Mahadalit vote advantage it could get after Nitish publicly attacked Manjhi, whom Sushil Modi had described as a Dalit icon.
“Manjhi has already made several announcements like reservation to SCs in government tenders, quota for poor upper caste in government jobs. Nitish has hardly anything left to consolidate his position among SCs,” a BJP leader in Delhi said.
The populist announcements, though, caused the Patna high court to restrain Manjhi’s government from announcing any major policy decisions till the trust vote.
Sources said NDA partner Ramvilas Paswan –a Dalit leader who heads the Lok Janshakti Party – was averse to the BJP backing the Manjhi government. The CM recently made overtures to the Paswans – the most influential among the SCs – by including them in the Mahadalit category, a sub-group of 21 out of 23 scheduled castes, which comprise 16% of the state’s population.
The CM, however, appeared confident about winning the trust vote, accusing Nitish of trying to frighten MLAs by spreading rumours that Manjhi was “conspiring” with the BJP to have President’s Rule imposed in Bihar. “I have no intention of recommending house dissolution or pave the way for imposition of President’s Rule,” he said.
(with inputs from HTC, Patna)