Even as the Patna High Court on Wednesday stayed the process of recognising him as the JD (U) legislature party leader, Nitish Kumar displayed a show of strength at Rashtrapati Bhawan and requested President Pranab Mukherjee to direct Bihar Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi to end the political uncertainty in the state and install a government that enjoyed majority in the assembly.
Late at night, sources in Raj Bhawan said the Governor asked Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi to prove majority in the Assembly on February 20.
Accompanied by his former political foe Lalu Prasad of RJD and JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, Nitish took a group of 130 MLAs to Rashtrapati Bhawan. Others who accompanied him included Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, Congress general secretary C P Joshi, Bihar Congress legislature party leader Sadanand Singh, RJD legislature party leader Abdul Bari Siddiqui, CPI MLA Avadhesh Kumar Rai and independent legislator Dulal Chand Goswami.
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While Nitish and a delegation of leaders went inside to meet Mukherjee, the remaining MLAs — ferried in buses from the Tughlaq Road residence of Sharad Yadav — waited outside as a demonstration of the majority enjoyed by Nitish.
The delegation submitted a memorandum to the President, saying that the JD (U) had expelled Manjhi from the party on February 9. “The decision was conveyed as per proper procedure to the Speaker of the Assembly, who, thereafter, declared Jitan Ram Manjhi as an unattached member of the assembly,” the memorandum said.
It said the situation had become “ludicrous” since Manjhi, who was “in a complete minority”, continued to hold cabinet meetings and take decisions, which were “unconstitutional”. It stopped short of attacking Governor Tripathi, a BJP-appointee, but underlined that he had “not yet responded to the request of the JD(U) and its supporting parties, which enjoy a clear majority”.
The new-found closeness among the top Janata Parivar leaders was on full display after they emerged from Rashtrapati Bhawan. Sharad and Mulayam were seen urging Nitish to speak to the media. And, while Nitish was yet to finish, Mulayam could be seen pulling Lalu by his elbow to tell him to hold forth. Lalu held himself back pointing out that Nitish was yet to wind up. Done with questions from the media, Nitish and Lalu joined hands and raised them as a show of unity.
Given that Mulayam is poised to head the proposed unified party after a merger of six outfits, Lalu took care to stress that Mulayam led the delegation. “The President heard us out and told us that he would look in to the matter,” Nitish said. He said Manjhi could also be asked to show his strength, but it should be done “in minimal time”.
“We want an immediate decision and the Governor can test our majority,” Lalu said. He accused the BJP of planning mischief through horse-trading.
Ostensibly apprehensive of poaching, the 130 MLAs were put up away from the city — at three plush hotels in Mulayam’s turf in Noida and Greater Noida the entire day. They were kept out of bounds for most of the day till they were brought to Sharad’s house and treated to tea and snacks. “You can do a headcount, you can speak to them and ascertain whether or not they support the party’s line,” Nitish said.
Former Tourism Minister in the Manjhi cabinet Javed Iqbal Ansari said Manjhi was taking his cues from the BJP and that it had become apparent in his style of running the government. “Ministers like Narendra Singh, Mahachandra Prasad and a few others were supporting him. The rest are wary of the way he is running the government,” he said.
Harlakhi MLA Shaligram Yadav said, “Manjhi was appointing wrong people in top posts of the government. He was not listening to party commands; had started doing whatever he felt like. The party had no reason to support him.”
In Patna, meanwhile, Nitish suffered a setback when the High Court — acting on a PIL by rebel JD(U) MLA Rajeshwar Raj — stayed his recognition as the JD (U) legislature party leader. The court left it to the Governor to take a call on the Assembly Speaker notifying Nitish as the JD (U) legislature party leader. It will hear the arguments on the matter on February 17.
According to S K Mangalam, the lawyer for the petitioner, the court said the Governor has to take a call on the legality of the Assembly notification. Raj said: “I prayed to the court seeking to know if a new legislature party leader can be chosen when the existing legislature party leader Manjhi has not resigned as Chief Minister.”
JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav said in Delhi that the court order does not change anything as far as their political strategy was concerned. “We never said we have chosen Nitish as the Leader of the House or the Chief Minister. We said we chose him as the leader of the legislature party, because it is in the jurisdiction of the party leadership. Our lawyers said the High Court has effectively put the ball in the Governor’s court, which we also had been seeking,” he said.