After a 50-minute-long meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the latter’s residence, Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi Sunday said he would not resign and was ready to face a floor test in the Assembly. He also accused Nitish Kumar of being hungry for power.
Manjhi, who came to Delhi saying he wanted to attend the maiden NITI Aayog meeting between CMs and the PM on Sunday, had sought an appointment with Modi. Manjhi’s party JD(U), which has asked him to step down in favour of Nitish, has accused the BJP of using him to try and split the party.
“I am still the CM of Bihar,” Manjhi said at a press conference. “Nitish Kumar’s real face has been exposed. He cannot live without power.
I refused to be a rubber-stamp chief minister, that was his problem. I will not go down without a fight. No one can sink a manjhi’s (boatman’s) boat.” The CM said he and Modi had not discussed politics. “I just sought the PM’s help for Bihar.” The meeting, which followed day-long backchannel talks between the BJP and pro-Manjhi MLAs, seemed to have lifted his mood. Earlier, wearing a strained smile, he had refused to speak about the matter, dodging the media throughout the day.
After the meeting with the PM, Manjhi displayed a new confidence. Asserting that he was under no one’s influence, he said he would also seek RJD supremo Lalu Prasad’s support “in the interest of backward classes”.
Manjhi added that the floor test could happen on February 20 and that by then he would have appointed new ministers. “There is no question of my resignation. I will prove my majority. There is scope to take in 34 new ministers,” he said. “I may have two deputy chief ministers, including a Muslim.”
Further attacking Nitish, Manjhi said: “He thought I am a Mahadalit and of average intellect. For 34-35 years in politics, I played a dumb as leaders with background like me were either killed or sidelined if they dared to speak.”
Objecting to Manjhi’s meeting with Modi, JD(U) spokesman K C Tyagi said the crisis in the party was being remote-engineered by the BJP. “The script of this drama is being written by the likes of Amit Shah from Delhi. The BJP wants to break the JD(U). But they will not succeed,” Tyagi said.
Sources in the Nitish camp claimed he had the support of 129 MLAs in the 243-member House, including those from the Congress and RJD. On Monday afternoon, a delegation led by JD(U) national president Sharad Yadav will present a letter of support from the MLAs to Bihar Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi, and ask him to call for a floor test. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, Congress legislative party leader Sadanand Singh and CPI leaders will be a part of the delegation, sources said.
The JD(U) will also parade all the MLAs in front of the media.
Sources said the party wants the floor test to happen within 24 hours instead of February 20. A 12-day delay could provide scope for horse-trading, the JD(U) fears.
On Sunday, Bihar Speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary too recognised Nitish as the new leader JD(U) legislature party leader.
The Manjhi camp seemed divided on the number it could muster. Earlier in the day, Bihar Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh, a Manjhi confidant, said they had the support of around 71 JD(U) MLAs. Another MLA, Gyanendra Singh Gyanu, however, would not give a specific number. His party colleague Mahachandra Prasad said Nitish was exaggerating the number of MLAs on his side.
Rajiv Ranjan, the chief whip in the Bihar Assembly, a Manjhi appointee, told The Indian Express that he would issue a three-line whip asking all JD(U) MLAs to vote for the government. “They are bound to obey.”
The BJP, sources said, has decided to wait and watch. Right now, it is a win-win situation for it as it can hope to get Mahadalit support through Manjhi without losing its upper-caste base. As much as 16 per cent of the state’s population is Dalit.
BJP leaders in Delhi are also of the view that not playing a visibly proactive role in the drama serves the party well.
Also eyeing the backward votes, NDA ally and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswas, who flew down from Patna, announced his support to Manjhi. He was present at an NDA meeting on the matter in the evening.
“As long as the Dalits swept floors, Nitish Kumar was fine. He started having issues when a Mahadalit CM started appointing Dalits in high places of government. We are totally behind Manjhi,” LJP general secretary Abdul Khalique said.
Another NDA ally from Bihar, Union MoS Human Resource Development Upendra Kushwaha, too extended support to Manjhi.