Bihar assembly speaker Uday Narain Choudhary on Wednesday ruled that all Janata Dal (U) MLAs, including those with chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi camp would sit in opposition while the CM and his ministerial colleagues would sit on the treasury benches.
The BJP, with 87 members and four independents siding with Manjhi, will sit in the middle aisle between treasury and opposition benches, while RJD, Congress and CPI members will sit by the side of the opposition benches.
The speaker, who was authorized at the all-party meet by leaders of the JD(U)-Nitish camp, RJD, Congress and CPI to take appropriate decision on seating arrangement for February 20 trust vote, refused to recognize Rajiv Ranjan as the chief whip.
Instead he declared that Shrawan Kumar would continue to be the chief whip of the JD(U) and those violating his whip would invite disqualification under the anti-defection laws.
The decisions were taken in the absence of chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and parliamentary affairs minister Brishen Patel.
Despite receiving invitation by the speaker, CM Manjhi preferred to stay away from the meeting saying that he had no business to attend the meeting called by the speaker when he has been declared as an "unattached" member of the house.
Even the assembly secretary called up Manjhi but he refused to turn up.
The speaker had also not invited parliamentary affairs minister Brishen Patel and Rajiv Ranjan, the new chief whip appointed by Manjhi, in the meeting.
When pointed out, the speaker said, "I do not know who the parliamentary affairs minister is?"
The BJP also walked out of the meeting when the speaker remained adamant on allowing the JD(U) MLAs led by Vijay Kumar Choudhary to sit in opposition and tagging other party MLAs associated with the Manjhi camp in the same group.
BJP leader Nand Kishore Yadav who attended the meeting as leader of opposition, said that the sitting arrangement decided by the speaker was "unconstitutional" as the JD(U) MLAs would, for the first time, sit in both opposition and treasury benches.
Yadav said the meet held no meaning without the presence of the chief minister and the parliamentary affairs minister and walked out of the meet.
He said that his party has already moved to the court fearing that such a situation might arise and has "requested the speaker to wait for judiciary's decision" on the matter. "But the speaker appeared adamant on what he had already decided", Yadav said.
Deputy speaker Amarendra Pratap Singh suggested to the speaker to stick to the decision taken by the then speaker when Nitish Kumar had sought confidence vote in 2000.
"The then speaker had allowed the MLAs to sit according to party position and had not taken decision on leader of opposition till the vote of confidence on March 10, 2000", Singh suggested.
In 2000, the alliance of JD(U), Samata Party, BJP, LJP and independents had won 152 seats in the then 324-member Bihar assembly (before creation of Jharkhand), while the number with RJD was less than 152.
Kumar was asked to prove his majority on the floor of the house within seven days by the then governor Vinod Chandra Pandey.
He failed to muster the numbers and quit before the trust vote.
However, the governor had read out the speech prepared by his seven-day government.
Kumar, however, said that his party preferred to sit in the opposition when Manjhi takes the confidence vote. "JD(U) wants to sit in the opposition in the assembly. The speaker has been requested to take a decision over it", he said.
Terming the all-party meet as a farce (dhong), rural works minister Bhim Singh said neither leader of the house Jitan Ram Manjhi nor parliamentary affairs minister Brishen Patel were invited.
He said such action was not expected of a person holding a constitutional position and added that the speaker's action smacked of malice. He also feared the speaker would not be impartial during the February 20 confidence vote of Jitan Ram Manjhi.