Exuding confidence that he would win the February 20 trust vote, Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi today said he would enter the ring like a “wrestler” and not bother about how strong the opponent was even as he slammed his bete noire Nitish Kumar for trying to reduce him to being a “puppet”.
“I will enter the ring as a ‘pahalwan’ (wrestler) without bothering how strong the opponent is and whether I will win or lose,” Manjhi told reporters here.
“I’ll make an emotional speech to the legislators that I stand for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden. If you agree with me, then come along. If I do not get adequate response, I’ll quit the CM’s post,” he said.
On his mentor Nitish Kumar’s statement that he had made a mistake in choosing him to be his successor in the chief minister’s post, Manjhi said that it was not just a “mistake”, but “a great mistake”.
“I have spent 34 years in politics and worked in different posts as minister and legislator… he (Kumar) committed a great mistake in assuming that I’ll act like his puppet,” Manjhi said.
Meanwhile, asked if he was banking on BJP’s support, he said, “I am standing alone and shall appeal to the legislators of all parties to accept my humble appeal to continue working for the poor and the downtrodden.”
On rivals’ claim that he enjoys the support of only 12 MLAs, Manjhi said, “I am standing my ground and will fight till the end, irrespective of the result.”
Manjhi thanked Bihar Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi for accepting his plea for the trust vote to be scheduled on February 20. He said he would once again appeal to the governor to use secret ballot during the confidence vote.
As to the possibility of a Cabinet expansion, Manjhi said that he would go for such a move if he won the trust vote.
Asked about his expulsion from JD(U) and position as an unattached member of the Assembly, Manjhi said he was looking into the legal aspect of the issue and would act lawfully.
Manjhi said, “I have not come to politics after selling my land that I have to make money for livelihood (from politics)… I came to politics with an intention to serve the public.”
On Kumar’s repeated allegation of horse trading, Manjhi said, “I am poor and a pauper and have no money for horse trading.”
Seeking to turn the tables on his adversaries, Manjhi said, “They (Kumar group) are actually indulging in horse trading by taking MLAs to Delhi and keeping them in a posh hotel… about Rs 1 lakh was spent on each MLA on this trip.”
Manjhi, who was so far restrained in his comments on Kumar, said, “It is true that after becoming CM in May last year, for 1-2 months, I used to act on whatever instruction came from there (Kumar) upon which people started calling me a ‘rubber-stamp CM’ being run by remote control by Kumar.
“But soon my self-respect pricked my conscience and I started asserting myself for the rights of the poor, which he (Kumar) and the people close to him did not like,” said Manjhi, who began his electoral career in 1980 as a Congress MLA.
“Mein garib jaroor hu par swabhiman rakhta hu (I am poor no doubt, but have self respect),” he said.
Stating that he did not do any wrong while speaking for the poor and announcing some schemes for them, Manjhi said, “I rather consolidated the vote of a large section of society (dalits and mahadalits, who constitute over 22 per cent of voters in Bihar) for JD(U) so that they (voters) no longer look here and there and stay with us (JD-U).”
Manjhi said that the trouble started when he launched a crackdown on middlemen in different ministries who he alleged used to “swallow” up a large chunk of developmental money.
“They ganged up against me and put pressure on Kumar to act against me,” he said.
“The party spokesman and some ministers made public remarks against me and when I asked him (Kumar) if it was being with his consent, he kept silent,” he added.
With Kumar firing repeated salvos at him for delaying the trust vote, saying that it could trigger horse trading, Governor Tripathi refused to join issue with JD(U) leaders over the time given to Manjhi, saying he had already clarified his stand.
“I have replied to these questions already… I need not repeat the same,” he told PTI over the phone from Kanpur.
Meanwhile, JD(U) today said it would pray to the Speaker to make arrangement for the ruling party’s MLAs to sit in the opposition wing during the confidence vote.
BJP, whose support is crucial for any chance that the Manjhi government has of survival, refused to reveal its cards and said it would take a call at the appropriate time.
Senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, however, supported Manjhi’s plea for a secret ballot.
Manjhi denied the allegation that he was trying to effect a break within the JD(U)’s ranks, saying he did not have that much strength.
Defending several Cabinet decisions, including free electricity to small farmers owning up to five acres of land, he said, “My government is not in minority. The Cabinet has the right to approve proposals.”
Stressing that he wished to bring all these schemes in the interest of the poor, Manjhi, however, said “My hands were tied. Now I am a free man and can do things in the interest of the poor.”
Talking about the crisis within the ruling party in Bihar, Manjhi said that, “Party spokesman and some ministers made public remarks against me and, when I asked him (Kumar) if it was being done with his consent, he maintained silence like the legendary Bhisma pitamah.”
Meanwhile, ahead of the trust vote, a controversy has arisen after Manjhi appointed his loyalist as the Chief Whip while the incumbent Shrawan Kumar claimed that the move was illegal and asserted that he continues to occupy the post.
Pro-Kumar MLAs Rajesh Singh and Dawood Ali protested against the chief minister’s office forwarding their names to the Assembly office for giving thanks on the governor’s speech.
Rajesh Singh said it tantamounted to “forgery” and threatened to initiate legal action.
The newly-appointed JD(U) Legislature Party Leader in the Assembly, Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, has asked Speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary to recognise his party as the main opposition and accordingly make seating arrangements for them in the House.
Chaudhary informed the Speaker that his party had the largest number of MLAs in the Assembly, but refrained from divulging the exact figure.
JD(U)’s move to seek recognition as the main opposition party in the Assembly is aimed at putting the BJP in a fix over its stand on the Manjhi government.
The Speaker had recognised BJP as the main opposition in June, 2013, after the then chief minister Kumar had sacked the saffron party’s ministers before severing ties with the long- standing JD(U) ally over elevation of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
In the 243-member Bihar House, whose present effective strength stands at 233, JD(U) has 111 MLAs followed by BJP with 87, RJD with 24 and Congress with 5 legislators. CPI has one MLA while there are five Independents members. Ten seats are vacant.
Apparently playing a mind game to make the Kumar camp jittery, the BJP favoured secret voting in the Assembly for the trust vote on February 20.
“We favour that the members of the legislative Assembly be allowed to cast secret ballot to decide the fate of the Manjhi government on the floor of the house on February 20,” senior BJP leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi told reporters.
Modi said that the 10th schedule does not specifically rule out that the trust vote can be taken by secret ballot but, at the same time, noted that it was for the Speaker to decide as to how the vote should take place.
The senior BJP leader sounded doubtful about whether the trust vote would be concluded smoothly and questioned the neutrality of the Speaker, saying he was not sure whether Chaudhary would go by the rules for conducting voting given his track record.
“Chaudhary has been known to be biased and known to take his decisions in the House at the behest of the former chief minister Nitish Kumar,” alleged Modi.
Manjhi’s off the cuff remark that he used to get a “commission” on developmental projects landed him in trouble with JD(U) legislator and party spokesman Niraj Kumar requesting the state police chief to register a case under Anti-Corruption Act, 1989, and Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
When mediapersons asked Manjhi this afternoon how much he used to get as “commission” in his capacity as chief minster, he said he had made “symbolic” remarks to highlight that money used to come to even such a high level although he had never actually taken any money himself while occupying the post.