Delay in cabinet expansion of Nitish Kumar govt raises eyebrows
The NDA government in Bihar led by chief minister Nitish Kumar is about to complete a month in office next week and the delay in the much-awaited cabinet expansion is raising eyebrows in political circles.
Speculations are rife that the induction of new ministers has become a tricky issue between two major allies in the NDA, JD(U) and the BJP, over sharing of portfolios and ministerial berths.
According to some, the JD(U), with only 43 MLAs compared to BJP’s 74, is not keen on a cabinet expansion at the moment due to apprehensions that it could stoke resentment among a section of party legislators, who may not be made ministers due to party’s claim on fewer cabinet berths this time.
Party leaders aware of the developments said some key decisions including on cabinet expansion could be taken at JD(U)’s national council meeting on December 27.
NDA insiders said the cabinet expansion was originally supposed to take place soon after the conclusion of the first session of the 17th assembly, held in the last week of November. BJP’s likely claim on key portfolios like rural development, rural works and few other field departments that have been with the JD(U), could also be causing the delay, they said.
There is also lack of consensus on the number of new ministers to be inducted from both the JD(U) and the BJP, though it is understood that the national party will get a higher share of cabinet berths. Out of the maximum of 36 ministers, JD(U) could get 14 berths while the BJP could get 18-20.
Right now, there are 14 ministers in the cabinet including the chief minister following the resignation of former education minister Mewalal Choudhary of the JD(U) following a hue and cry over corruption charges. Choudhary’s portfolio was allotted to building construction minister Ashok Choudhary. Currently, there are four ministers from the JD(U) and seven from the BJP with one minister each from HAM(S) and VIP, smaller allies in the NDA government.
“There are internal dynamics at play with the BJP, now a senior partner in the NDA, bargaining hard for certain key portfolios and also in other matters like reshuffling in the state bureaucracy and putting its leaders in various committees. This is all taking time and an expansion would take place once these matters are sorted between JD(U), BJP and smaller allies,” said an NDA leader, wishing not to be quoted.
He added that the expansion had got delayed because of the BJP central leadership and top Union ministers getting caught up in the farmers stir in New Delhi over the contentious farm laws.
“It is not a comfortable position for the JD(U) with depleted strength in the NDA and a decision cannot be taken fast. So, there is a feeling that delaying a cabinet expansion is the best solution as it could help in dealing with certain tricky issues over the period,” said a senior JD(U) leader.
Many feel, if the cabinet expansion does not take place by December 15, it would be done in mid January, since the period of Kharmas--from mid December till January 14-- is not considered auspicious for undertaking new ventures as per astrological beliefs.
Meanwhile, state president of the BJP, Sanjay Jaiswal, said the expansion would take place at an opportune time while calling the reports of certain contentious points between the JD(U) and the BJP holding it up as mere speculation.
“The expansion will take place at the right time. Everybody would get to know about it,” he said. JD(U) state spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan said the expansion of the cabinet was a prerogative of the chief minister and a decision would be taken at the highest level of NDA.