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Bihar cabinet authorises CM to take call on House session

By, Patna
Jan 30, 2024 07:00 AM IST

The new Bihar cabinet in its first meeting on Monday authorised chief minister Nitish Kumar to decide on convening a fresh assembly session.

The new Bihar cabinet in its first meeting on Monday authorised chief minister Nitish Kumar to decide on convening a fresh assembly session and asked the assembly secretariat to remove Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) legislator Awadh Bihari Choudhary from the speaker’s post, a day after Kumar severed ties with the RJD and took oath as CM for the ninth time.

(From left) Samastipur MP Prince Raj Paswan, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party president Pashupati Kumar Paras, legislative councillor Bhushan Kumar and Nawada MP Chandan Singh in Patna on Monday. (Santosh Kumar/HT)
(From left) Samastipur MP Prince Raj Paswan, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party president Pashupati Kumar Paras, legislative councillor Bhushan Kumar and Nawada MP Chandan Singh in Patna on Monday. (Santosh Kumar/HT)

A meeting was also held between Kumar, his two new deputies – Samrat Choudhary and Vijay Kumar Sinha – and BJP and Janata Dal (United) leaders for further inductions into the cabinet. A total of eight ministers, three from the JD(U), three from the BJP, one from the Hindustani Awami Morcha (HAM) led by former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi and an independent, took oath on Sunday.

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Earlier on Monday morning, BJP leader Nand Kishore Yadav, Manjhi and former deputy chief minister Tarkishore Prasad served a no-confidence motion against speaker Choudhary.

Discussions have started on choosing a new speaker, who is likely to be from the BJP, said people aware of developments. BJP leaders Nand Kishore and Amarendra Pratap Singh are tipped to be the possible candidates, they said.

In 2020, when the JD(U)-BJP combine had won the assembly elections and remained in power for close to two years before Kumar left the coalition to join hands with the RJD, the assembly speaker was BJP’s Vijay Kumar Sinha, who is now deputy CM.

On January 18, a cabinet chaired by Kumar, who was then heading the Grand Alliance government, approved the start of the budget session of the state legislature on February 5. With that government falling and a new formation in place, it is likely the new government will seek a floor test on February 12, with the budget session likely to begin on February 15, said leaders of the JD(U), seeking anonymity.

The new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the state has the support of 128 legislators – 45 from Kumar’s JD(U), 78 from the BJP, four from HAM and one independent – in an assembly of 243 members.

On Monday evening, there was an hour-long meeting of key NDA constituents over the proposed cabinet expansion. The process is likely to be completed by Wednesday, leaders who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity, but declined to divulge names.

On Sunday, Kumar said the cabinet would be expanded soon. “Very soon, the cabinet would be expanded. I have returned to where I was earlier. There is no need to go anywhere now. We will remain together now in the interest of Bihar and state’s development,” he said.

The preceding Mahagatbandhan cabinet had 30 ministers, and it was likely the new government would have similar numbers, leaders said. The BJP and JD(U) are likely to get 14 seats each in the cabinet. “The formula will likely be the same as it was in the NDA government in 2020, when the two major constituents had an equal number of ministers,” an NDA leader said, requesting anonymity.

The composition of the new cabinet is key, NDA leaders said, with caste a central motif of elections in Bihar, particularly after the 2023 caste survey, and crucial Lok Sabha elections in a matter of months.

The caste survey last year showed that Extremely Backward Oommunities(EBC) constituted 36.01% of the population, backward castes made up another 27.12 %, Scheduled Castes 19.65 %, Scheduled Tribes 1.68 % and other unreserved communities 15.52 %. The survey caused a political storm in Bihar and nationally, with the Opposition alliance, of which Kumar was until Sunday a key part, calling for a nationwide caste census.

The cabinet would have to be carefully calibrated to include a wide array of castes, minority groups and women. “With the caste survey giving us the latest numbers, the cabinet distribution will see to it that all castes get proper representation,” a BJP leader said, wishing to remain unnamed.

Kumar is likely to broadly stick with a team of ministers that he has worked with before and trusts, including leaders like Ashok Choudhary, Sanjay Jha, Sheila Mandal and Lesi Singh, JD(U) leaders said.

Kumar also separately met with 10 JD(U) parliamentarians at his residence on Monday morning, and asked them to focus their attention towards winning all 40 Lok Sabha seats on offer in the state.

“The chief minister asked us to take development work done by the Centre and the state before the people,” said MP Mahabali Singh, adding that the JD(U) will continue to raise the contentious demand for special status for Bihar, a classification from the Union government for states that face socioeconomic disadvantages.

The BJP’s new deputy CM Samrat Chaudhary, who is also the state unit chief, was accorded a warm welcome by cheering workers at the party office in Patna on Monday. The NDA will work to realise the state’s unfulfilled dreams under the leadership of both Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said.

Efforts were made to break the JD(U) from within, and the BJP stepped in because “democracy had been left ashamed”, he said. “The alliance of JD(U)-BJP-HAM and other parties will work on the path of development in the state.”

HT reached out to RJD leaders for a comment but did not get one immediately.

The Congress continued to attack Kumar on his severing of ties with the Mahagatbandhan despite being a key player in the INDIA bloc, and said he had given no indication that he was going to betray the Opposition alliance. “He has betrayed us. At the right time, the people of Bihar will give him a befitting response,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Vijay is chief of bureau, Patna. He has spent 21 years in journalism and covers political beats and public affairs.

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