The run-up to the February 20 floor test against Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi has seen one constitutional poser cropping up after another.
Who is the JD(U)’s legislature party leader?
Though Jitan Ram Manjhi belongs to no party after the JD(U) expelled him, he will be treated as an unattached member of the assembly during the February 20 floor test. And he is being treated as a legislature party leader because a CM is automatically a legislature party leader. On the other hand, the JD(U) has chosen Nitish Kumar as legislature party leader. Though the Patna High Court has restrained further action on the notification from the assembly secretariat, the court has not questioned Nitish’s selection for that is an internal matter of the JD(U). It means if Manjhi cannot prove his majority, the governor can invite Nitish, who might no longer need to be elected legislature party leader.
Who is the chief whip?
As per norms, the chief minister, as legislature party leader, appoints the chief whip, and Manjhi appointed Islampur MLA Rajiv Ranjan on February 7. This has not, however, been notified by the Speaker yet. Manjhi himself being an unattached member, his appointee is on weak constitutional ground. Under such circumstances, the Nitish-led JD(U) may have the upper hand in its appointment of Shravan Kumar as chief whip, though Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary has not ruled either way.
Is a secret ballot mandatory?
The governor has suggested one, but legal experts say it is at the discretion of the Speaker. If the Speaker goes by the anti-defection law’s provisions and allows a whip, it would mean the 13 JD(U) MLAs in Manjhi’s camp would stand to lose their membership if they support him during the trust vote. If a secret ballot is allowed, the anti-defection law will not apply. It is purely for this reason that the Manjhi camp has been pressing for a secret ballot.
Who is the main opposition?
The JD(U) with 97 MLAs supporting Nitish is asking for opposition status during the trust vote. The BJP, with 87 MLAs, has threatened to move court if robbed of its opposition status. It leaves the Speaker with a tough choice.
Will the other no-trust motion, which is against the Speaker, restrict his powers?
Though independent MLA Pawan Jaiswal wrote to the assembly secretariat last week, it will require 38 MLAs to back the motion. The current Speaker can officiate during the trust motion as the other motion has not yet been officially moved; a Speaker has to discontinue officiating from the 14th day of a motion against him being moved.