In a shrewd but largely unnoticed move, the Janata Dal (United) has divided the NDA in Bihar on their first day together – when 27 new ministers were administered oath on 29 July.
While the JD(U) retained 14 of its old tried and tested hands, it gave fair representation to only two of the four constituents of the NDA – the BJP and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) – with 12 and one ministerial berth respectively.
Unlike the BJP and the LJP, which managed to extract its pound of flesh in the new Cabinet, the other two allies – Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) headed by Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha and former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM), were left twiddling their thumbs.
While no official explanation was offered, it is believed that ties between Nitish and Kushwaha have been strained ever since the latter launched a vitriolic attack on the Bihar Chief Minister a few years ago. The two were once close associates. While Kushwaha belongs to the third-largest OBC community in Bihar, Nitish hails from the Kurmi community – which comprises around three to four percent of the state’s population.
Together, Kurmi and Kushwaha were regarded as the mythological Luv-Kush.
As far as Manjhi’s HAM is concerned, it was caught in the dilemma – to join or not to join? Manjhi is the sole representative of the party in the 243-member Assembly, and was Chief Minister of Bihar from May 2014 to February 2015.
So could a former Chief Minister serve as a Cabinet Minister under Nitish? Manjhi said that he had no inhibitions about doing so. He cited precedents like Narayan Rane (Maharashtra), Suresh Mehta (Gujarat), Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Punjab), Babu Lal Gaur (Madhya Pradesh) and O Panneerselvam (Tamil Nadu) – all of whom served under someone else as Cabinet Minister after demitting the office of the Chief Minister.
It is believed that the argument failed to cut any ice with Nitish, who is reportedly unhappy with his former-protégé-turned-rebel after the CM debacle of 2014-15.
Manjhi had also suggested that someone else could be sworn in as minister representing his party, and later accommodated in either of the House. That too could not fructify.
A peeved Manjhi boycotted the swearing-in function, despite Sushil Modi’s mollification bid. He left for New Delhi, where he is likely to lodge a protest with top BJP leadership for the shabby treatment that has been meted out to him.
Divide and Rule
The Mahadalit leader’s angst is understandable. After all, in a similar situation, LJP chief’s Ram Vilas Paswan’s younger brother, Pashupati Kumar Paras, was made a Cabinet Minister, although Paras is neither an MLA nor MLC. This move is seen as an attempt to woo Paswan, while also driving a wedge between a Dalit and a Mahadalit leader within the NDA.
Nine of the 12 BJP ministers are new faces. The exceptions are Sushil Modi, (Finance), Nand Kishore Yadav (Road Construction) and Prem Kumar (Agriculture), who were in Nitish’s Cabinet from November 2005 to June 2013.
The JD (U) has, however, retained all the 14 ministers who were earlier in the Grand Alliance with the same portfolio. The ministries held by the RJD/Congress have gone to the NDA. Of this, the Health Department under Lalu’s elder son Tej Pratap has gone to former Bihar BJP president Mangal Pandey (MLC). Pandey took oath two hours behind schedule as the Himachal Pradesh in-charge was delayed while on his way from Chandigarh.
Keeping the caste calculations in mind, Nitish has increased the upper caste representation from four (in the Grand Alliance regime) to seven. He has also reduced the number of Yadav representatives by including only three – compared to seven (when RJD and Congress were alliance partners).
The Kayasthas, like the previous regime, remain unrepresented despite being vocal and loyal BJP supporters. The Vaishya community, the core vote-bank of the BJP, now has three representatives, up from nil in previous Grand Alliance regime. There is one Muslim representative too – Khurshid, who chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ on the day Nitish won the vote of confidence.
Nitish, who has always favoured 50 percent reservation to women as elected representatives, has, however, done gross injustice this time around. Only one woman has been inducted – Manju Verma. This at a time when women in Bihar have profusely thanked Nitish for imposing prohibition. And many more are likely to swear by him if he harps on the anti-dowry movement in the days to come.
But more than social causes, Nitish has to focus on good governance this time around – something that took a back seat during his tenure as the Grand Alliance CM, when he was preoccupied with the game of snakes and ladders. With the NDA by his side, he would rather prefer to play chess with his new-found rival, the RJD, and check-mate the mighty Opposition. The die has been cast(e).
(Neena Choudhary is a Bihar-based journalist. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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