Ahead of the floor test for the newly aligned Nitish Kumar-led NDA Government on Monday, while political parties were busy keeping their members together through sumptuous meals, antakshari, and indoor games, all eyes are also focused on the role of incumbent Speaker Avadh Bihari Chaudhary, an RJD member, and Jitan Ram Manjhi-led HAM, a constituent of the present Nitish regime.
Sources indicate that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar himself is apprehensive of potential cross-voting by some of his party MLAs who have reportedly been unreachable since last week.
The JD(U) chief is seemingly facing internal dissent within the party for his frequent changes in stance, treating the party as his personal fiefdom, and his recent decision to replace his close confidant and predecessor Lallan Singh as the chief of JD(U).
Another former JD(U) president and once a close aide to Nitish, RCP Singh, is also aiming to sideline Nitish from Bihar politics entirely. RCP, who was part of Narendra Modi’s Cabinet as a JD(U) partner and has now joined the BJP.
The Bihar Assembly has a total strength of 243, with the majority mark set at 122. The NDA holds a comfortable majority with 128 seats, comprising 78 from BJP, 45 from JD(U), 4 from Hindustani Awam Morcha, and Independent MLA Sumit Singh. On the other side, led by RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav, efforts are underway to “woo” 14 legislators, as the party remains the largest in the Bihar Assembly with 79 MLAs, followed by the Congress with 19, Left parties with 18, and the lone AIMM also in the Mahagathbandhan.
Sources indicate that Manjhi had a meeting with an emissary of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad a day earlier, and now he is attempting to exert his influence with four MLAs in his camp, including the former’s son, who was sworn in as part of the newly formed Nitish Ministry.
Sources said the RJD has offered Manjhi a Rajya Sabha seat, a Lok Sabha seat, and two Cabinet berths in case the Tejaswi-led front is supported by him. Manjhi had demanded two berths in the newly formed NDA Cabinet.
The former Chief Minister, known as a mercurial leader, was apparently keeping his options open.
Manjhi himself has disclosed that an Opposition party had offered him the post of Chief Minister but did not reveal which party did so.
Sources also said the NDA alliance is planning to move a no-confidence motion against the Speaker an hour before the trust vote. The Speaker had refused to give in to the ruling alliance’s demands and resign from his post, adding that he would only step down based on the results of the floor test.
As per the rules, a no-confidence motion can be brought after 14 days [of giving notice to the Secretary of the Assembly] or on the 14th day. Until then, the Speaker remains in his office.
Sunday brought worry for all political parties except for the BJP, as legislators of the RJD, the JD(U), the Congress, the CPIML were playing truant, with some not attending their respective party meetings, not showing up for meals, and worst, some of them keeping their mobile phones ‘not reachable’.
The biggest headache has come for Nitish as a few of his party legislators were conspicuously absent for the meeting at the residence of senior party leader and Cabinet Minister Shrawan Kumar.
An MLA of a Left party (an ally of the RJD-led grand alliance) was said to have met with Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) chief Manjhi at the behest of Lalu.
The luncheon meeting at former Deputy CM Tejaswi’s official residence, where RJD legislators were later joined by their CPIML colleagues, had stated to wait for the “Khela Hoga” (game plan) when Nitish walked out from the Mahagathbandhan alliance to join BJP.
In a statement clarifying the RJD legislators’ ‘stay-over’ at Tejashwi’s residence, party spokesman and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said the legislators had decided to spend the next 48 hours together. He also said the RJD MLAs were playing ‘antakshari’ inside.