Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi raised the flag of rebellion higher on Friday, declaring an “all-out war” on his opponents, and describing his predecessor Nitish Kumar as the JD(U)’s “Bhisma Pitamah” who has “shut his eyes to the drift in the party.”
He is scheduled to leave for Delhi on Saturday to take part in the meeting of Niti Aayog on Sunday, making it clear that he would not be participating in the crucial JD(U) Legislature Party meeting.
A day after Manjhi announced he would not attend Saturday’s meeting of JD(U) MLAs where, as per the script decided by the party’s leadership, he was to have handed back power to Nitish, five ministers threw their weight behind the chief minister.
Narendra Singh, Brishen Patel, Nitish Mishra, Mahachandra Prasad Singh and Vinay Bihari warned that removing Manjhi would damage the JD(U) beyond repair. The chief minister himself told reporters in Saharsa: “The war has begun, and it will be an all-out war now. Nitishji is the Bhisma Pitamah.”
Over a dozen people suffered minor injuries as rival groups of Manjhi and Nitish supporters clashed in front of the party office in Patna. The supporters of Manjhi, including several Dalit women, described the attempt to remove him as “an insult” to Mahadalits, and threatened more protests. They burnt top JD(U) leaders in effigy, and attempted to lodge protests with party national president Sharad Yadav.
Sharad himself shot off a letter to Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, asking him not to “consider” any proposal from Chief Minister Manjhi, as he “will be removed as legislature party leader tomorrow.”
The Nitish camp had several rounds of meetings with party MLAs. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shravan Kumar claimed to have invited 111 JD(U)
MLAs for Saturday’s legislature party meeting.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad reiterated his party’s support to Nitish. “Manjhi’s continuance (as CM) is hurting secularism (because of the CM’s alleged BJP leanings). Nitish is a good person, and we support him,” Lalu said.
The RJD has 24 MLAs. The Congress (5) too has reiterated its support to Nitish. The JD(U) has 116 MLAs in the 243-member House.
Manjhi has said Saturday’s planned meeting of JD(U) MLAs is “unconstitutional” because he alone as legislature party leader is competent to convene such a meeting.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh said: “Manjhi should be allowed to continue. He has been working well for the poor. An attempt to remove him will only hurt the party.” Similar sentiments were echoed by ministers Nitish Mishra and Mahachandra Prasad Singh, who said “what is happening is damaging to the party”.
Senior JD (U) leader Devesh Chandra Thakur said: “Saturday’s meeting and possible selection of Nitish as leader will have no legal sanctity if Manjhi doesn’t resign. Manjhi can be asked to prove his majority on the floor of House.”
Should Manjhi not resign by Saturday, the Governor’s role would be “very crucial”, Thakur, who was once close to Nitish but now leans towards the chief minister, said.
JD(U) spokesperson K C Tyagi said, “It is true that Manjhi is not bowing out easily, but he should remember that it was Nitish Kumar, and not the MLAs, who made him CM. Nitish Kumar has overwhelming support in the party. There are some problems, but the party will overcome them.”