Nitish Kumar took oath as chief minister of Bihar -- for the fourth time -- on Sunday. Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi administered oath to Kumar at a function at Raj Bhawan.
Included in Nitish’s new team were his 22 loyalists - two ministers who were sacked by Manjhi and 20 others who resigned on February 7 to express their solidarity with Nitish, on the day he was declared leader of the JD(U) legislature party in Manjhi’s place.
Nitish admitted as much in a TV interview relayed after the swearing in ceremony at Raj Bhawan. “I have included all those who exhibited complete commitment and loyalty towards the party”, he said.
A notable inclusion in the ministry was former road construction minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh, whom Manjhi had accused of conduct unbecoming of a minister nd subsequently sacked him from his ministry on February 6.
Another minister who was included was PK Shahi, forest and environment minister in the Manjhi cabinet, who had been sacked along with Lalan on the ground of his alleged ‘non-performance’ as minister.
The two ministers had been openly critical of Manjhi in the run up to their summary dismissal from the cabinet.
Other ministers who took oath of office along with the CM were Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, Bijendra Prasad Yadav, Shravan Kumar, Jai Kumar Singh, Shyam Rajak and Leshi Singh.
From the time Nitish was declared JDULP leader on February 7 till a defiant Manjhi resigned as CM on February 20 to avoid a trust vote he looked like losing, these leaders appeared to be among those most pro-active in helping him hold his flock of MLAs.
“While many others also played a hand, these leaders played a leading hand in enabling Nitish to counter (alleged) poaching attempts by the rival side. Hosting lunches and dinners for supporting MLAs was part of the exercise”, said a JD (U) functionary.
Other ministers included were Damodar Raut, Narendra Narayan Yadav, Baidyanath Sahni, Awadhesh Prasad Kushwaha, Ranju Gita, Javed Iqbal Ansari , Naushad Alam, Dulal Chand Goswami, Binod Prasad Yadav, Ram Lashan Ram 'Raman', Ramdhani Singh, Manoj Kumar Singh alias Manoj Kushwaha and Bima Bharti.
All these ministers had put in their papers on February 7, soon after they walked out of a Manjhi cabinet meeting in protest against a move to authorise the CM to ‘take appropriate decision at appropriate time’ for dissolution of the Bihar assembly.
Another significant inclusion in the new cabinet list was Ramai Ram, transport minister in the Manjhi cabinet, who had repeatedly demanded in recent days he would not joined the ministry unless he was made deputy chief minister.
JD(U) sources said he had been persuaded to take oath as minister on the promise that his demand would be considered later, at an appropriate time. Ram, too, had resigned on February 7.
A senior dalit leader, Ram had subsequently claimed he had declined a ‘Deputy CM’ offer from the Manjhi camp in lieu of crossing over to that side. He had said he wanted to be deputy CM under Nitish.
JD(U) sources said by keeping vacant another dozen cabinet berths out of the total number permissible under the law, Nitish had retained the option of the RJD and Congress to join his government.
The JD(U) has 110 MLAs in the Bihar assembly, the effective strength of which is 233, at present. Out of these about 12 MLAs had sides with Manjhi in his standoff against Nitish that culminated in Manjhi’s resignation Saturday.
As such, the Nitish regime needs the backing of the Lalu Prasad-RJD, with its 24 MLAs, and the Congress (5 MLAs) to secure its first vote of confidence in the Bihar assembly in which the majority mark, at present stands at 117.
Evidently, none of the eight ministers who sided with Manjhi till the end found place in the new Nitish ministry.