NEW DELHI, Nov 11: Despite his party doing poorly, the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and his JD(U) are hanging on the promise the prime minister Narendra Modi had given and corroborated by the BJP national president J P Nadda that the NDA would retain Kumar as the leader of the legislature party irrespective of the numerical strength of the respective alliance partners in the new Assembly.
If the leadership issue was not settled beforehand, the BJP as the senior partner with 74 seats to JD(U)’s 43 would automatically have staked the claim for the chief minister’s post, if not for the entire term at least on a rotational basis. Apparently the BJP high command wanted to avoid a Maharashtra-like situation in Bihar because the leadership issue caused the rift between the two partners, the BJP and Shiv Sena leading to saffron party’s loss of Maharashtra.
Though the Bihar unit of the BJP may not be enjoying the situation and a section of the party indirectly hinted the JD(U) to voluntarily abdicate the claim for the top office and offer it to the BJP, they feel helpless in the face of Modi having given the promise to Nitish. Since the Modi magic was found to be still working virtually pulling the “tired” Nitish and his party to cross the magic figure, the local party cadre would be forced to accept whatever comes their way and would not dream of a revolt against the central leadership.
After the results were out, the Bihar deputy chief minister and the state top BJP leader Sushil Modi reiterated that the leadership choice was not an issue between the two NDA partners. The issue had been decided well in advance and that there was no dispute over it, he said. “Nitish Kumar will remain the chief minister, that was our commitment,” he said. The BJP national general secretary and in-charge of Bihar Bhupendra Yadav repeated the same assurance.
From the JD(U) side, there was no indication so far that the party in any way was preparing to reciprocate the BJP’s gesture and offer the chief minister’s post to the new senior partner. On the contrary, Nitish Kumar was learnt to be holding a series of meetings at his residence with his close aides over the ministry formation in the next few days.
Speculations, however, are rife over the size of the new cabinet and the share of each of the four partners as well as the post of the Assembly speaker which could become a very key post given that the four partners together have secured only 125 seats, a majority of only three seats in the House of 243, including four seats each won by the former CM Jitan Ram Majhi’s Hindustani Awami Morcha ( Secular) and Bollywood set designer Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, both unstable partners of the NDA, while the combined opposition of the “Mahagathbandhan” having 110 seats. The JD(U) leadership agree that the BJP this time may have more cabinet ranks than in the outgoing cabinet when the party was a junior partner and had come to share the power because about two years after the 2015 elections Nitish decided to dump the Rashtriya Janata Dal and joined hands with the BJP to form a new ministry.
In the outgoing Nitish Kumar-led NDA government, there were 15 and 13 ministers from the JD (U) and the BJP, respectively. Earlier, the cabinet had 33 ministers, including 19 from the JD (U) and the BJP (14).
The maximum number of ministers in the Bihar cabinet permissible is 36, as the size is capped at 15% of the 243-member legislative assembly.
The JD (U) top brass could come to terms with the BJP’s claim for more ministerial berths in light of the outcome.
“Yes, there could be more BJP ministers in the new cabinet and the JD (U) may have to settle for less. However, the issue will be resolved amicably,” a JD (U) leader said. The BJP is maintaining silence about the composition of the new cabinet.
“The party’s parliamentary board will take a call on this. The central leadership of the party will hold talks with CM Kumar on the size of cabinet and other related matters,” said Sanjay Jaiswal, the head of the BJP’s Bihar unit.
Sushil Modi echoed similar views and said the central parliamentary board would decide on the names of ministers. He also skirted the contentious issue on whether the BJP would demand a lion’s share in the new cabinet. “We will know it after the discussions are held,” he said amid speculations that the key meeting could be held on Wednesday evening.
NDA insiders felt the BJP might not assert itself in getting ministerial berths disproportionately higher than that of the JD (U) in a bid not to undermine CM Kumar’s stature.
The party, they said, would like to send a message of maintaining its coalition dharma while factoring in an equitable representation from all regions, caste and religious groupings in a state known for its identity politics.
“The cabinet size will be decided based on the number of seats that the allies have won. The BJP may seek a higher representation, as it has an enviable strength of lawmakers. However, the party may err on the side of caution. The BJP knows Kumar is the glue for the NDA and any assertion may put the alliance under unnecessary strain,” some political analysts believe. But most of the political observers believe that there could be some tug-of-war between the alliance partners over the speaker’s post if they did not settle for re-appointing the outgoing speaker for another term. In the outgoing assembly, JD(U)’s Vijay Kumar Choudhary was the speaker and he has won from the Sarairanjan seat.