Nitish Kumar on Monday picked Mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi to be Bihar’s new chief minister, after JD(U) MLAs gave in to his insistence on stepping down, and authorised him to choose their leader.
Manjhi, 68, MLA from Maqdumpur in Gaya, is Nitish’s SC/ST welfare minister, who came in third behind the BJP and RJD candidates at the Gaya Lok Sabha seat on Friday. He was not among the half a dozen leaders who were widely expected to succeed Nitish after he resigned on Saturday, taking “moral responsibility” for the JD(U)’s poor showing in the Lok Sabha election.
The Mahadalit constituency is a creation of Nitish, who put all Scheduled Caste groups other than Paswans in this tent. Mahadalits account for 12 per cent votes, and are a core Nitish constituency. The choice of a Mahadalit, which Nitish made in consultation with JD(U) national president Sharad Yadav, sends out the politically powerful message of the transfer of power from an OBC — Nitish himself — to an SC.
Among the names in the mix earlier had been those of Rajput leader Bashishtha Narayan Singh and the Bhumihar minister Bijay Choudhary, besides Bijendra Yadav, Narendra Narayan Yadav, and even Sharad Yadav himself. Nitish has pleaded to be relieved from chief ministership so he can work to strengthen the party after the election debacle.
Soon after meeting Governor D Y Patil, Nitish said on Monday: “We have pressed the claim to form the next government under the leadership of Jitan Ram Manjhi. We have presented a list of 117 JD(U) MLAs, two Independents and one Left MLA who make up a simple majority in the depleted House of 239, four short of his usual strength.”
An overwhelmed Manjhi thanked Nitish for the honour.
Earlier, Nitish said he had taken the decision to step down after much thought, and would not like to reconsider. “I am pleased that party MLAs finally saw merit in my arguments, and agreed to relieve me of the CM’s responsibility. My role has become bigger now, to work to strengthen the party.”
He said he would lead the party in the assembly elections scheduled for 2015, and was open to becoming chief minister again. “I will go to the people again, and if they give us the mandate, I will again take the responsibility of leading the government.”
Bihar JD(U) president Bashishtha Narayan Singh said Nitish would now lead the party and work as a coordinator between the party and government. Asked if Nitish had resigned to avoid coming face-to-face with Narendra Modi over whose prime ministerial candidature he had broken the alliance with th BJP, Singh said: “Nitish Kumar has set the highest standard in politics by resigning, and will continue to fight against Narendra Modi’s brand of politics.”
BJP legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said Nitish must clarify his position on his growing proximity to the RJD and Congress. “Nitish Kumar fought Congress all his life and fought against Lalu Prasad’s jungle raj with us. Why then is the JD(U) not treating these parties as opposition now?” Modi asked.
Jitan Ram Manjhi’s government, Sushil Modi said, would be like that of Manmohan Singh’s — “remote-controlled”. Pataliputra MP and BJP leader Ram Kripal Yadav said: “Nitishji is very good at threatrics.”