New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his Karnataka counterpart B.S. Yediyurappa have one thing in common — both are anxiously awaiting the BJP brass’ nod on their respective cabinet expansions.
While Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who was also waiting for a long time finally got the clearance to induct two ministers Sunday, there has been no such luck for Yediyurappa and Nitish.
For Nitish Kumar, it’s been a month and half since he formed the government. There are currently 14 ministers in the Bihar cabinet, including Nitish. They include seven from the BJP, which is now the bigger partner in the alliance, four from the JD(U), and one each from the Jitan Ram Manjhi led-HAM and Mukesh Sahni’s VIP.
The cabinet has a strength to accommodate 36 ministers. Earlier it was speculated that the cabinet expansion will be done after Chhath Puja, but no communication came from the BJP.
A week ago, Bihar’s two Deputy Chief Ministers, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, met several leaders in Delhi, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, but nobody could offer any clarity on cabinet expansion.
The delay in the expansion of the cabinet has burdened Bihar’s ministers with work as they’re helming more than one portfolio now.
For instance, Deputy CM Prasad is in-charge of six departments, while Renu Devi is heading four portfolios. Health Minister Mangal Pandey is heading road construction and culture, while JD(U) ministers Vijay Kumar Choudhary and Ashok Choudhary are in-charge of five departments each.
On 15 December, Nitish told reporters he is yet to get any proposal from the BJP regarding cabinet expansion. “I have not received any proposal from the BJP for cabinet expansion. When it comes, it will be expanded,” he had said.
While Nitish has been awaiting the central BJP’s nod for over a month, his counterpart in Karnataka, Yediyurappa, has been waiting to expand his cabinet since January last year. He has made at least four announcements regarding the expansion, but so far there has been no movement on this front. He met BJP president J.P. Nadda in Delhi in November, but got no date for his cabinet expansion.
BJP leaders told ThePrint that the party’s central leadership has been delaying the cabinet expansion in Bihar and Karnataka as it is busy with several other issues such as the farmers protest, West Bengal elections, and Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
They also said the high command isn’t accelerating the process of cabinet expansion because there’s no imminent election in the states concerned.
‘Kharmas delaying cabinet expansion’
Senior BJP leaders told ThePrint the party high command will focus on cabinet expansion in the two states after it gets done dealing with more important national issues.
“What is the urgency to expand cabinets? The government is functioning, chief ministers, deputy chief ministers and ministers are there to run the government. The Centre is busy with other things, it is dealing with the farmers’ protest. Once they are free, then we will think about the expansion. Also, right now, kharmas (a period between15 December-14 January) is on. So any auspicious work can be done only after 14 January,” said a senior party leader.
Nitin Navin, BJP MLA from Bihar who is likely to be inducted in the cabinet, also told ThePrint that kharmas is delaying the cabinet expansion.
The senior party leader mentioned above said: “Bhupender (Yadav) ji will visit Bihar in the first week of January. He will meet the party’s senior leaders to brainstorm (in the matter of cabinet expansion).”
A BJP general secretary, who didn’t want to be named, said: “You have to understand the functioning of Modi and Shah. They don’t take decisions in haste. They think about many factors before making decisions. They decide keeping in mind three things — narrative, future elections and party expansion. In all the two states, there is no such urgency. There is no election in any of the states. In some cases, this style of functioning tests regional aspirations and patience, but this is their style of functioning.”
Bihar council election delaying expansion?
Bihar BJP leaders said the delay in cabinet expansion could be because the issue of 12 members to be nominated by the governor to the legislative council is still not decided between the two allies.
Also, there are two vacant seats in the legislative council and both belong to the BJP. The JD(U) needs to convince the BJP to get its minister Ashok Choudhary elected to the council as he is not a member of either House.
Same is the case with VIP’s Mukesh Sahni, who lost the assembly election, but was made a minister.
“Expansion may take place after council elections and nomination of the 12 members. The central BJP leadership may be considering to do both the things in one go,” said Vivek Thakur, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP.
‘JD(U) honour should be protected’
JD(U) leader K.C. Tyagi told ThePrint that the party’s honour should be protected.
“We are not linking Union cabinet expansion with Bihar cabinet expansion but JD(U) honour should be protected. BJP has ministers in Bihar but we don’t have ministers in the Union cabinet.”
BJP sources told ThePrint that although the party has not deliberated on the issue of cabinet expansion yet, Nitish is insisting on a 50:50 share of power.
“BJP thinks power of balance should be in proportion. BJP has 74 MLAs and it has to see their representation,” a BJP source added.
Another issue that needs to be ironed out between the two allies is the distribution of important portfolios like education, home, water resources. Nitish is in-charge of the home department.
A few days ago, BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan reportedly said Nitish should hand over the home portfolio to the BJP as the CM already has several responsibilities. He said law and order in the state will be hampered if attention is not paid on that front.
A second BJP leader, however, played down the matter, saying, “These are not major issues, the bottom line is both have to understand the mandate and work accordingly.”