The power tussle continued in Bihar on Saturday with Jitan Ram Manjhi refusing to resign as Chief Minister even as Nitish Kumar was elected leader of the JD(U) legislature party.
Ninety-seven of the JD(U)’s 111 MLAs turned up for today’s meeting called by party president Sharad Yadav — Manjhi had declared the meeting as “unconstitutional”. The Nitish camp claimed the support of 127 MLAs, including 24 from RJD and five from Congress.
Manjhi, who met Nitish earlier in the day, left for Delhi in the evening as scheduled to attend the NITI Aayog meeting.
“Good governance was being compromised for social engineering,” Nitish told mediapersons after the party meeting, taking a dig at Manjhi’s “ultra Dalit” politics. He said he had heard a “lot of complaints” against Manjhi. “Though I was not keen to take over as CM, I am accepting the proposal for the party… After all, a bad atmosphere was being created (by Manjhi)…Numbers are not an issue,” said Nitish, who is set to address a meeting of JD(U) workers on February 15 in an apparent show of strength.
Nitish also accused the BJP of provoking Manjhi. He said during their meeting today, Manjhi told him he was planning to recommend dissolution of the house. “This is not the way the cabinet system works. If there is dissent, a decision is reconsidered. I had been hearing about the evil designs of someone (Manjhi) in the face of threat to his chair, I saw a glimpse of that today. How can Manjhi challenge the authority of our national president Sharad Yadav to call a party meeting?” said Nitish.
With Manjhi not resigning as CM and Nitish being elected as JD(U) legislature party leader, all eyes are now on Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi. Meanwhile, the JD(U) has sent a letter to the Governor informing him that Nitish has “replaced” Manjhi as the legislature party leader and has the numbers to form the government.
Manjhi, on the other hand, held a cabinet meeting in the afternoon where he proposed dissolution of the house. But only seven ministers — Shahid Ali Khan, Mahachandra Prasad Singh, Narendra Singh, Nitish Mishra, Bhim Singh, Brishen Patel and Vinay Bihari — supported his proposal. While 12 ministers opposed it, 10 stayed away. Later in the evening, 20 ministers loyal to Nitish resigned.
Manjhi, however, has not yet sent a recommendation for dissolution of the house to the Governor. Legal experts said even if Manjhi recommends dissolution of the house, the Governor can explore all options, including asking Manjhi to prove his majority.
“An important Supreme Court ruling says that whether a CM has majority or not can be decided on the floor of the house. The Governor may not dissolve the house outright and can ask Manjhi for a floor test. He can later invite Nitish to form the government after asking him to parade his MLAs,” said Patna High Court senior lawyer Tuhin Shanker.
Though some JD(U) MLAs recommended the dismissal of Manjhi and the seven ministers from the party, the party leadership has put the decision on hold.
During his meeting with Nitish, Manjhi is reported to have said that his removal would hurt the party. “Manjhi again played the Dalit card and came with the one-point agenda of remaining in office. The JD(U) offered him a respectable position such as the post of party vice-president or Speaker and a ministerial berth for his son, but Manjhi remained defiant,” said a source.
The Manjhi camp has claimed the support of 87 BJP MLAs and enough JD(U) MLAs to get the required 117 MLAs in the truncated House of 233 (10 vacant). “The BJP has no option but to support Manjhi, who is planning to drop 21 ministers loyal to Nitish and offer the berths to other JD(U) legislators. He will recommend dissolution of the house, maybe after his Delhi visit,” said a Manjhi loyalist MLA.
However, BJP legislature party leader Sushil Kumar Modi said, “We want fresh polls because Nitish has no mandate. But we are not committing to support or not support Manjhi.” Manjhi is expected to meet BJP leaders during his Delhi visit.