Patna: Less than a week after the Grand Alliance government, led by the Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), took oath in Bihar, the portfolio allocation was finalised Tuesday.
While the RJD got more berths, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar retained the key portfolios of home, vigilance and personnel — departments that oversee law & order, and administration. A total of 31 ministers (excluding CM and deputy CM) were inducted into the cabinet Tuesday: 16 from the RJD, 11 from the JD(U), two from the Congress, one from former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and one Independent.
While Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav was made in charge of meaty departments like health, road construction, urban development and housing, and rural works, other RJD leaders were given relatively lightweight portfolios like tourism, industries, cooperative and public health engineering.
Education, which was earlier with the JD(U), was an exception and went to Chandrashekhar, the RJD MLA from Madhepura.
RJD patriarch Lalu Prasad’s elder son Tej Pratap Yadav was made minister of environment, forest & climate change — a department with limited scope in Bihar that was left with only 6 per cent of forest cover after Jharkhand was carved out from it in 2000.
As health minister in the JD(U)-RJD government between 2015 and 2017, Tej Pratap had caused palpable embarrassment to the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance).
On the JD(U) side of affairs, CM Nitish Kumar’s close confidant Sanjay Jha retained water resources, an important department in flood-prone Bihar. Shrawon Kumar, the JD(U) MLA from Nalanda, was made in charge of the all-important rural development department and MLC Ashok Choudhary in charge of the building construction department. Supaul MLA Bijendar Yadav retained the power portfolio.
Finance, another key portfolio that was earlier with former deputy CM Tarkishore Prasad of the BJP, was given to JD(U) MLA from Sarairanjan, Vijay Choudhary, along with commercial taxes.
Emphasis on ‘social justice’
An imprint of CM Nitish Kumar’s thrust on representation for all communities is visible in the new cabinet. Leaders from the Muslim and Yadav communities — seen as core voters of the RJD — got 5 and 8 departments, respectively.
The cabinet also has 3 Kushwahas, 6 Dalits and 3 ministers who identify as EBCs (extremely backward classes).
Six berths went to representatives who hail from upper castes, but the cabinet is dominated by groups that traditionally vote for the RJD and the JD(U) — an attempt to amplify the parties’ stated message of “social justice”.
Even the Congress, with only two cabinet seats in its kitty, chose to appoint a Dalit and a Muslim as ministers.
No new JD(U) faces
The allocation of portfolios this time around reflects CM Nitish Kumar in a weaker position compared to 2015, when the RJD and the JD(U) had earlier joined hands to form a coalition government in Bihar.
In 2015, the Mahagathbandhan government, formed after the RJD bagged 80 seats and the JD(U) 71 seats, had 12 ministers each from both parties. That equation has now changed — the RJD has 17 ministers while the JD(U) has 12, including the CM and the Deputy CM. In the 2020 assembly polls, the RJD emerged as the single-largest party with 75 seats, followed by the BJP with 74 and its then ally JD(U) with 43.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, who walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) last week, didn’t promote any new faces from his own party — all 11 JD(U) ministers in the cabinet were part of the erstwhile BJP-JD(U) government, with Nitish as CM.
JD(U) sources told ThePrint that there was talk that some ministers might be dropped to make way for the likes of MLC Upendra Kushwaha, who is the party’s Kushwaha face and national parliamentary board president of the JD(U).
However, the chief minister seems to have steered clear of such a move. According to sources, such a decision could have triggered resentment among MLAs since the cabinet already comprises two MLCs.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, meanwhile, made some notable inductions like Madhubani MLA Samir Mahaseth (a Baniya) and MLC Kartik Singh (a Bhumihar).
Ramgarh MLA Sudhakar Singh, the son of state RJD president Jagdanand Singh, was made minister of agriculture.
Nitish Kumar’s weakening writ
In the expansion exercise, there appears to be a dilution of Nitish Kumar’s stated zero-tolerance stance towards allegations of corruption and other crimes against his ministers.
After he was sworn in as chief minister of Bihar for the second time in 2005, Nitish Kumar dropped close aide Jitan Ram Manjhi from the cabinet owing to a vigilance case against him.
Manjhi was inducted into the cabinet in 2008 only after the state vigilance department cleared his name.
Now, Nitish is heading a government with three controversial RJD leaders as ministers — Lalit Kumar Yadav, Surendra Prasad Yadav and Ramanand Yadav.
Darbhanga Rural MLA Lalit Kumar Yadav is returning to the government after 21 years.
He was a junior minister in the Rabri Devi ministry until 2001, when he was made to resign after he was charged with allegedly illegally detaining and torturing a truck driver and his Dalit helper. But the complainant in the case, who had claimed on camera that Yadav tortured him over the disappearance of a truck owned by one of the RJD leader’s associates, retracted his statement in court.
Yadav, who now faces only one criminal case, according to his election affidavit, was also accused in 2016 of involvement in the murder of a local businessman, Hiralal Paswan. While the latter’s family alleged that Yadav had a role in his death, the RJD leader denied the allegation.
Surendra Prasad Yadav, a seven-time RJD MLA from Belaganj in Gaya district, is also a former Member of Parliament from Jehanabad. In early 2003, he was made to quit as a minister in the Rabri Devi government after he was charged with the alleged abduction and torture of a businessman.
According to his 2020 election affidavit, Yadav is facing at least nine criminal cases. In June 2022, he was charged under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) for allegedly revealing the identity of a minor gang-rape survivor in 2018.
Ramanand Yadav, the RJD MLA from Fatuha, is facing four criminal cases, according to his 2020 election affidavit. These include cases of alleged extortion and criminal intimidation.
When the trio did not make the cut in 2015, it was said that it was owing to CM Nitish Kumar’s insistence on heading a cabinet with ministers who have a “clean image”.
Speaking about the presence of leaders with criminal antecedents in the new cabinet, JD(U) state president Umesh Kushwaha told ThePrint, “All of them have been elected by the people and have not been convicted by court. The government will be run by Nitish Kumar, The Bihar CM has never compromised with his principles in governance”.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)