Sidelining defiant Jitan Ram Manjhi who has refused to step down, JD(U) Legislature Party today elected Nitish Kumar as its leader who will stake claim to form government in Bihar.
Kumar, who had resigned as Chief Minister in the wake of party’s disastrous performance in Lok Sabha polls in May last year, was elected at a meeting attended by 97 of 111 JD(U) MLAs and 37 of the total 41 members of Legislative Council.
The meeting, called by party President Sharad Yadav, took place shortly after Manjhi’s unsuccessful bid to have a Cabinet recommendation for dissolution of the Assembly.
Earlier, a last-ditch attempt was made for a patch up between Manjhi and the group led by Kumar but it failed.
Kumar’s election at the meeting, dubbed by the Chief Minister as “unauthorised”, paves the way for him to take over the mantle again by replacing Manjhi whom he had handpicked to after he had resigned.
At the Cabinet meeting convened by Manjhi just before the Legislature Party meeting, a proposal was mooted for dissolving the Assembly. It was supported by seven ministers besides Manjhi, while 21 pro-Nitish Kumar ministers opposed it, state Finance Minister Bijendra Yadav told reporters.
Kumar said Yadav will establish contact with Governor Kesrinath Tripathi to stake claim to form the government.
He said that majority was with him “and if needed, we will parade our majority numbers”, apparently referring to support of RJD, Congress and CPI which takes his number well ahead of the majority mark in the 243-member Assembly.
Yadav said a total of 130 JD(U) legislators, comprising MLAs and MLCs, are in support of Nitish Kumar.
Notice had been sent to 111 MLAs and 41 MLCs for attending the meeting convened by Yadav. As expected, Manjhi, some ministers and legislators supporting him stayed away from it.
Addressing JD(U) legislators, he said he had been forced to accept the challenge in view of “dirty” politics played by the BJP against his party.
Kumar said he would take the fight against the BJP to its logical conclusion in the Assembly polls due later this year.
“Now I have accepted the challenge and I will lead from the front and take the fight against the BJP which is playing ‘dirty trick’ against his party to a logical conclusion in Assembly poll later this year,” he said.
Kumar has assumed leadership eight months after he quit CM on May 19 owning moral responsibility for JD(U)’s poor show in the Lok Sabha election.
Apprehending that the BJP might play against him, Kumar said, “It will be seen whether people in power today hold value of democracy or try to throttle democratic values.”
He asked MLAs to be present in Patna to fight out any “foul” play against them.
In the JD(U) Legislature Party meeting, Masaurhi MLA Arun Manjhi, considered a supporter of Manjhi, proposed Kumar’s name, which was approved by the MLAs.
On Manjhi Cabinet’s “proposal” for dissolving Assembly, Kumar said it did not enjoy the backing of a majority.
“The tradition is that even if one member registers protest on any item in the Cabinet it is withdrawn. Here 21 ministers are rejecting a proposal to recommend dissolution of the Vidhan Sabha,” Kumar said.
Earlier, a letter bearing signature of 21 ministers who had rejected the proposal to dissolve the Assembly, was sent to President Pranab Mukherjee and the Governor to convince them that if Manjhi went ahead and recommended dissolution of the House it was not backed by a majority.
Meanwhile, a press release issued by Principal Secretary Cabinet Coordination department B Pradhan said the Cabinet had authorised Chief Minister Manjhi to take “an appropriate decision at an appropriate time” on the proposal to disssolve the Assembly.
Without naming Manjhi, Kumar strongly disapproved of him and a few other party leaders for boycotting the Legislature Party meeting called by the party chief.
“They could have come and expressed their views, but instead called the meeting convened by the party president as unauthorised,” he said, adding “Apne per par kulhari mar liye hain (they have invited trouble).”
The JD(U) Legislature Party meeting came after high drama during the day.
After the failure of a last-ditch effort for a patch up during the nearly two-hour-long meeting between Jitan Ram Manjhi and Nitish Kumar, the ground was prepared for a final showdown between the two rival groups within the JD(U).
Manjhi went straightway to the Cabinet meeting at his residence after emerging from Kumar’s bungalow.
Senior minister Narendra Singh brought a proposal to authorise Manjhi to dissolve the Assembly. Senior minister Bijendra Yadav, close to Nitish Kumar, told reporters that seven ministers, along with the CM, backed the proposal while 21 of them owing allegiance to Nitish Kumar rejected it.
The Governor earlier accepted the recommendation of Manjhi to dismiss two of his ministers Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lallan and P K Shahi considered close to Nitish Kumar.
As high drama unfolded here, senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi left for Delhi to apprise the party’s central leadership about the political situation in the state.
RJD, Congress and CPI have already made it clear that they will support Nitish Kumar.
In the 243-member Bihar Assembly, the JD(U) has now 111 members, BJP 87, RJD 24, Congress 5, CPI 1, Independets 5 and 10 remained vacant.
JD(U) General Secretary K C Tyagi told PTI that the party president had sought time from the Governor who, he said, was expected to arrive at Patna on Monday morning.
On the arrival of the Governor, Yadav would meet him to stake claim to form government under the leadership of Nitish Kumar.
He said 21 ministers in the Manjhi Cabinet who had rejected a proposal to dissolve Assembly at the Cabinet meeting, would meet the Governor on the same day and tender their resignation from the Manjhi ministry.
Meanwhile, Manjhi left for Delhi to take part in a meeting of NITI Aayog with Prime Minister Narendra Modi tomorrow.
Before leaving for Delhi, he sent recommendation to dismiss 15 other ministers of his Cabinet to the Governor, highly placed sources in the CM’s Office said.
Out of 20 ministers opposed to him, Manjhi has spared five — Dulal Chand Goswami, Ramai Ram, Ram Lakhan Ram Raman, Manoj Kumar Singh and Naushad Alam, the sources said.
The day saw protest-march, agitation by pro-Manjhi supporters outside Assembly entrance in Patna as well in Gaya and Muzaffarpur.
Nitish supporters also hit streets in capital Patna. A large number of youth JD(U) workers gathered at Nitish’s home and shouted slogans in his favour.
Manjhi’s waning support within the party was also visible from the fact that posters bearing his photos were removed from state party office in the capital.
Minister Narendra Singh, who has emerged as chief advisor of Manjhi, told reporters that the “Manjhi ministry” would be expanded soon.
He said if required, they would take help from BJP to keep the Manjhi ministry going.
Singh said there was no “validity” of meeting called by Sharad Yadav. “We are the ‘asli’ (true) JD-U,” said Singh, a friend of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad since 1974 JP movement who has gone against them.