The long delay in expansion of Bihar cabinet made on February 8–86 days to be precise–could not avoid the controversy within the ruling National Democratic Alliance. As soon as the names of the new ministers were announced, the reports of displeasure of Mukesh Sahni and Jitan Ram Manjhi came to the surface.
Mukesh Sahni’s VIP and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM have four MLAs each in the present Assembly. Both the parties had got one ministerial berth at the outset of the present government yet, according to the reports, they were expecting one additional space in the cabinet. More aggressive of the two, Mukesh Sahni on the same day had said that he will meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah and let him be aware of his grievances.
It needs to be mentioned that Mukesh Sahni lost his assembly seat from Saharsa’s Simri Bakhtiyarpur constituency to RJD’s Yusuf Salahuddin, the son of LJP M.P. from Khagaria, Chaudhry Mahboob Ali Qaiser. Incidentally, Mahboob Ali Qaiser defeated Mukesh Sahni in the 2019 General Election when the latter’s outfit was part of the Grand Alliance.
However, Sahni managed to get the Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Ministry in the new NDA cabinet, thanks to the thin majority of the Nitish kumar led coalition. He was later sent to the legislative council by the BJP.
Some political observers are of view that Sahni has become too big for his boots since after losing both the last Lok Sabha election and the recently held Bihar Assembly election his bargaining position has become quite weak. Moreover, the prevalent view in the political circle is that most of the four VIP legislators are fielded at the behest of BJP which restricts him to explore any other possibilities.
Incidentally, according to media reports the Bihar government proposal to include Nishad along with a couple of other caste groups in the Scheduled Tribe category has been rejected by the Central government.
Interestingly, after meeting Amit Shah, Sahni tried to downplay the fact that he is upset over the denial of at least one more ministerial berth. Instead, he hinted that his meeting with Shah was primarily focused on the issue of Nishad’s (his own caste) inclusion in Schedule Tribe.
Analysts point out that Sahni may be used by the saffron party to push its interest within the NDA and to put pressure on Nitish Kumar. On the other hand, Nitish is revitalizing his cordiality with Jitan Ram Manjhi as well as RLSP supremo Upendra Kushwaha to balance the act.
Meanwhile, the lone BSP MLA Zaman Khan who defeated senior BJP minister Brij Kishor Bind in the last election defected to the JDU. He got minority affairs portfolio. Independent MLA from Chakai, Sumit Singh was made Science and Technology minister from JDU quota. He is the son of former minister Narendra Singh. This has raised the tally of JDU to 45 (44+1).
However, the strongest criticism of the cabinet expansion came from senior BJP leader Gyanendra Singh Gyanu who said that this cabinet lacks social balance and that the upper castes have been ignored as far as representation of his party is concerned.
He lashed out at the party’s state leadership alleging that the whole south Bihar was ignored in the cabinet expansion. Highlighting the inexperience of the BJP ministers he went on to suggest that unlike the past when Sushil Modi used to sit parallel to Nitish Kumar there is no one from the BJP’s side compared with the stature of the Bihar Chief minister in the present cabinet. It needs to be mentioned that before the 2015 Assembly election, Gyanu was considered too close to Nitish.
He claimed that there is anger among BJP MLAs since many of them are in touch with him. On the other hand, four-time JDU MLA Gopal Mandal came out openly to question Nitish Kumar over his non-inclusion in the cabinet.
Meanwhile, after the report of Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) which alleged that 18 of the 31 ministers are facing criminal charges, opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav mounted a blistering attack on chief minister Nitish Kumar.
“It is extremely unfortunate for Bihar that the chief minister of state does not know about 18 out of 31 ministers facing criminal charges like Murder, loot, dacoity, corruption, rape, arms act, cheating and keeping illegal arms. Chief minister has no moral right to stay in power,” Tejashwi tweeted.
(Shams Khan is contributing editor at THE NEWSWEB)