THE Patna High Court on Wednesday stayed the process of recognising Nitish Kumar as the JD (U) legislature party leader. The court order came on a PIL filed by rebel JD (U) MLA Rajeshwar Raj who questioned Nitish’s selection as the legislature party leader when Jitan Ram Manjhi has not resigned as the Chief Minister.
The court did not make any observation and left it to Governor Kesari Nath Tripathi to take a call on the Assembly Speaker notifying Nitish as the JD (U) legislature party leader. The court will hear the arguments on the matter on February 17.
The petitioner’s lawyer S K Mangalam told reporters: “The bench of Patna High Court Chief Justice stayed further action on Assembly secretariat notifying Nitish Kumar as legislature party leader on February 7 on request of JD (U) state president Bashistha Narayan Singh.” The court said the Governor has to take a call on the legality of the Assembly notification.
“The court, in any case, will take a comprehensive view of the entire process of Nitish Kumar’s selection as JD (U) legislature party even when Jitan Ram Manjhi has not resigned as Chief Minister,” he said.
Raj, who is the JD (U) MLA from Karakat, said: “I prayed to the court seeking to know if a new legislature party leader can be chosen when the existing legislature party leader Jitan Ram Manjhi has not resigned as Chief Minister. I have also sought to know if the Governor can accept Nitish Kumar’s staking claim to form government under such circumstances.”
Raj said the court staying the further process of Nitish selection as legislature party leader had given a great boost to the Manjhi camp. “It has given us a great psychological boost,” he said.
Independent MLA Binay Bihari claimed at least 20 MLAs who had gone to Delhi with Nitish were in touch with them. “There is no such thing as number game. Let there be secret ballot as requested by the CM to the Governor,” said Bihari.
Former minister Prashant Kumar Shahi, however, said: “The court has not made any observation but only stayed the further process. The matter is not disposed of yet.” Former parliamentary affairs minister and chief whip from Nitish side, Shravan Kumar, said the court process would have little bearing as Nitish has support of 130 MLAs.
Legal experts said the Governor can now ask Manjhi to face floor test and if he did not pass the test and resigned, JD (U) may well have to elect Nitish as the legislature party leader and stake claim to form government afresh.
Meanwhile, BJP state president Mangal Pandey said he had conveyed to central leadership about some BJP leaders’ desire to support Manjhi. BJP national spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain said the party would take a call on “supporting Manjhi at the time of floor test”.