The swearing-in of 31 ministers in Bihar on Tuesday reflects the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) attempt at implementing its “MY (Muslim-Yadav)-plus” strategy while the Janata Dal (United) has stuck to its reliable OBC-EBC-Dalit-Upper caste combination.
Of the 31 ministers in the new Nitish Kumar-led Council of Ministers, 16 are from the RJD, 11 are from the JD(U) — all from the previous administration retained — two belong to the Congress, one is from the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and one is an Independent MLA. The Bihar government can have a maximum of 36 ministers, including the chief minister and the deputy CM, but now has 33.
While, as expected, the chief minister retained the home ministry, the JD(U) also took control of the finance ministry. By entrusting Vijay Kumar Choudhary with the key portfolio, Nitish Kumar has marked him out as the most important leader in the party after him at the moment. Bijendra Prasad Yadav, the Yadav face in Nitish’s camp, has to make do with the Energy portfolio that he already held.
The four portfolios with Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav — Health, Road Construction, Urban Development and Housing, and Rural Works — are crucial departments and show his high stature in the current administration. His elder brother Tej Pratap, the health minister in the previous administration, has been given charge of the department of environment, forest and climate change. Also, for the first time, the JD(U) has parted with the Education portfolio that has gone to the RJD’s Chandra Shekhar.
The RJD has included six ministers from the Yadav community. Apart from Tej Pratap Yadav and Madhepura MLA Chandra Shekhar, they are Belaganj MLA Surendra Prasad Yadav; Fatuha MLA Ramanand Yadav; Darbhanga Rural legislator Lalit Yadav; and Marhaura MLA Jitendra Rai. These six ministers cater to the regions of Samastipur, Gaya, Patna, Madhepura, Darbhanga, and Saran. The party has also given three berths to Muslim leaders. The three are Shahnawaz Alam, the son of former MP and Seemanchal’s Muslim face Mohammed Taslimuddin; Israil Mansuri, a Pasmanda Muslim from Muzaffarpur; and Shamim Ahmad from the Champaran belt. Anita Devi, who belongs to an Extremely Backward Class (EBC) community is the only woman in the ministerial council. She was also a minister in the previous “Mahagathbandan (Grand Alliance)” government.
With the appointments, the party has tried to maintain the social balance among non-Yadav OBCs, EBCs, and the Scheduled Caste (SC). It has included former MP Alok Mehta who is an OBC Kushwaha leader from Samastipur and Sameer Mahaseth (Madhubani) who belongs to the OBC Vaishya community, which is otherwise considered a BJP constituency. The two ministers from the SC community are Kumar Sarvjeet from Gaya and Surendra Ram from Saran.
In a renewed attempt at the politics of assimilation that it calls the “A to Z” strategy, the RJD has made MLC Kartik Singh a minister. Singh is an upper-caste Bhumihar. In the Bochachan Assembly bypoll in April, which the RJD wrested from the Vikassheel Insaan Party, the party received significant Bhumihar support.
The RJD has also included Sudhakar Singh, the son of the party’s state president Jagdanand Singh and an upper-caste Rajput. The Rajputs have always been part of the RJD’s political matrix. In the past, the party has had Rajput leaders such as former MPs Umashankar Singh, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (also a former Union minister), and Prabhunath Singh in its ranks. Sudhakar Singh’s inclusion was a foregone conclusion as his father is a long-time aide of Lalu Prasad.
The JD(U) did not spring any surprise as it retained its 11 ministers who represent the party’s rainbow social combination. Apart from Vijay Kumar Choudhary (Bhumihar) and Bijendra Prasad Yadav (OBC), its ministers are Jayant Raj (Kushwaha), Ashok Kumar Choudhary (SC), Shravan Kumar (OBC Kurmi), Leshi Singh (Rajput), Madan Sahni (EBC), Sanjay Kumar Jha (Brahmin), Sheela Kumari (EBC), and Sunil Kumar (SC). Its lone Muslim minister is Jama Khan, who was earlier with the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Though there was speculation that Nitish would drop Phulparas (Madhubani) MLA Sheela Kumari because of her proximity to former JD(U) leader RCP Singh, the CM retained her likely because he wished to avoid blowback from the EBC community, which is one of his core support bases.
The Congress went with an SC-Muslim combination this time unlike the last Mahagathbandan government when one of its ministers was Dalit and another from a Brahmin. The new Congress ministers are Mohammed Aafaque Alam from the Seemanchal belt of Purnia and Surendra Ram from Rohtas.
The Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) party kept its sole ministerial berth, with party chief and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s son Santosh Kumar Singh remaining a minister. Independent MLA Sumit Kumar Singh from Chakai in Jamui district, who is the son of former state minister and socialist leader Narendra Singh, also retained his place in the ministerial council.