Senior Janata Dal-United leader Nitish Kumar will parade MLAs from his party and allies RJD and Congress before governor Keshri Nath Tripathi on Monday to stake claim to form a new government in Bihar, which has been rocked by chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s removal as leader of the legislature party.
A delegation of leaders from the JD-U and its allies on Sunday submitted letters of support to the governor's office which said 130 MLAs were backing Kumar, who was elected the new leader of the legislature party on Saturday.
A JD-U delegation led by state party president Bashishtha Narayan Singh claimed the support of 24 RJD MLAs, five from the Congress, one of CPI and one independent.
But a defiant Manjhi ruled out the possibility of resigning after a meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. He challenged his rivals in the JD-U to defeat him in a trial of strength in the assembly on February 20.
“I will prove majority in the assembly or step down if I cannot,” he told reporters.
Manjhi was hand-picked by Kumar as his replacement when the latter stepped down as chief minister last year after owning responsibility for the JD-U’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha polls.
State JD-U president Bashishtha Narayan Singh was accompanied by senior party leader Vijay Kumar Choudhary, RJD leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Congress legislature party leader Sadanand Singh, CPI leader Jitendra Narayan and independent MLA Dulalchand Goswami when he went to the governor’s office to submit the letters of support for Nitish Kumar.
"We went to the Raj Bhawan and submitted letters of support. We have also sought time from the governor to formally stake our claim tomorrow," Singh said after emerging from the Raj Bhawan.
Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi is scheduled to return from Kolkata on Monday morning. "Once the governor arrives tomorrow, Nitish Kumar will formally meet him to stake claim to form the government," Singh said.
Singh said he also submitted a letter from JD-U president Sharad Yadav to Raj Bhawan officials in which Yadav asked Manjhi to quit since he had ceased to be the party's legislature party leader after Nitish Kumar's election on Saturday evening.
Kumar asked MLAs of the JD-U and its allies to reach Raj Bhawan at 10 am so that they can be presented before the governor. Kumar will be accompanied by Sharad Yadav and legislature party leaders of the Congress, RJD and CPI.
In a swift action, state assembly speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary has recognized Kumar as the new leader of the JD-U legislature party.
However, education minister Brishen Patel, a prominent leader of the Manjhi camp, described the recognition accorded to Kumar by the speaker as "unconstitutional" and claimed it had violated the established legislative process.
"The leader of the House is recognized by the speaker only after the governor, who is head of the state legislature, administers oath to the leader as chief minister. It is unconstitutional and a violation of legislative rules," Patel said.
The Manjhi camp hit out at Kumar’s camp by removing Shrawan Kumar from the post of chief whip.
Sources said a new chief whip would issue a one-line whip to JD-U legislators if Manjhi is asked by the governor to seek a confidence vote in the House.
While the battle inching towards a final showdown, both camps have been accused of horse-trading and issuing threats to rope in support. Two women legislators, Bima Bharti and Sunita Singh, alleged they were asked to support Manjhi and that they were threatened when they refused. Bharti has filed a complaint at the Secretariat police station.