Both Nitish Kumar and Jitan Ram Manjhi met Bihar Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi on Monday — Kumar to stake claim to form the government; Manjhi to seek time until February 19 to prove his majority. The chief minister also asked the Governor for a secret ballot and observers from both sides to oversee the Assembly show of strength.
The JD(U) expelled Manjhi after party lawmakers in both Houses elected Kumar as their leader.
JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav and RJD president Lalu Prasad — who has backed Nitish’s return — accompanied the former chief minister to his meeting with the Governor. They told the Governor Nitish had the backing of 130 MLAs, far more than the 117 required for majority in the House.
Nitish told reporters he had complete faith in the judgment of the Governor; he added, however, that if not invited to form the government, he would parade his MLAs before the President. All 130 MLAs — belonging to the JD(U), RJD and Congress, along with an Independent — were present outside Raj Bhavan to demonstrate their support to Nitish Kumar.
“We tried to impress upon the Governor the importance of acting quickly, especially because the Governor will have to address the Assembly at the beginning of the Budget session. He should know whose government he is speaking for,” Nitish said.
He added that “from the way Jitan Ram Manjhi looked confident and spoke to the media after meeting the Prime Minister, it looked as though the BJP is trying to take advantage of the situation”.
Lalu said: “We clearly told the Governor that he should not take too much time to invite Nitish Kumar to form the government, because delays will encourage horse-trading. Nitish has a clear majority and there must be no delay.”
Nitish said senior leader Vijay Kumar Choudhary, who attended the cabinet meeting where it was decided that Manjhi should recommend dissolution of the House, had told Tripathi that only seven ministers had authorised Manjhi — whereas according to rules, dissent by two-thirds of the council of ministers makes a resolution invalid. Manjhi has not yet recommended dissolution of the Assembly.
“I wonder how he (Manjhi) has been talking about expanding his cabinet and having two deputy chief ministers. A bad atmosphere has been created by the BJP. The Governor clarified that he had not received any such proposal from Manjhi,” Nitish said.
Manjhi, who met Tripathi soon after Nitish, said: “I have requested the Governor to give me time after February 19, and to put in place a system of secret ballot and independent observers from both sides (for the show of strength).”
Narendra Singh, a minister and Manjhi loyalist, claimed the chief minister had the support of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “When we met the Prime Minister and discussed the Bihar problem, he said his blessings were with us,” Singh said. Manjhi has already said he is open to taking support from the BJP, which has 87 MLAs.
Sources in the BJP, however, told The Indian Express that they would prefer to see Manjhi “sacrifice” himself, rather than continue as chief minister. “We want Manjhi to go down fighting — making an impassioned speech in House during the floor test. An emotional Manjhi, watched by a large number of people on TV, will suit us… We would like him to play the Dalit card to the hilt before he resigns,” said a BJP leader in Delhi.