Patna: Three days after Bihar CM Nitish Kumar turned down ‘symbolic representation’ in the union cabinet offered by the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he expanded his ministry Sunday by inducting eight members of his party Janata Dal (United), and also offering the BJP one berth.
In doing so, Nitish stuck to his guns about ‘proportional representation’ being an important aspect of alliance ‘dharma’, not symbolic representation that the BJP has given its allies at the Centre. However, the CM denied speculation that not everything was fine within the alliance in Bihar.
“The expansion was long overdue. It was done after consultation with our ally,” Nitish said after the swearing-in ceremony.
BJP leader and deputy CM Sushil Modi confirmed what Nitish said. “Nitish ji had called and asked us to fill up the one vacancy we have in the ministry. We will do it later,” he said.
The new ministers
Including the CM, Bihar had 25 ministers before the expansion, of which 14 were from the BJP. The JD(U) has 73 legislators in the Bihar assembly while the BJP has 54.
The strength of the JD(U) in the ministry came down since three ministers were elected to the Lok Sabha and the lone woman minister, Manju Verma, had resigned last year after her husband came under the CBI scanner for his role in the Muzaffarpur shelter home sexual abuse case.
Now, with the induction of eight new JD(U) ministers, the strength of the ministry has risen to 33. With the total strength of the assembly being 243 members, the maximum permissible number of ministers is 36.
In Sunday’s expansion, Nitish has given representation to castes which are his core supporters — backward castes and Dalits account for six of the eight new entrants. At least four of the new entrants, including Bima Bharati, the new woman minister, have been ministers in Nitish’s earlier administrations.
The two upper caste leaders who have been made ministers are MLCs Sanjay Jha, whom Nitish had tried to get a Lok Sabha ticket from Darbhanga, and Neeraj Kumar, party spokesperson.
Timing and significance
The timing of the expansion has set tongues are wagging in political circles. When Nitish turned down the BJP’s offer of one berth in the union cabinet, he demanded proportional representation, stating that his party had 16 MPs and could not be treated at par with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, which has six, or the NDA’s Punjab constituent, Shiromani Akali Dal, which has two.
He added that in alliances, the number of ministerial berths and portfolios ought to be pre-decided, like the alliance in Bihar.
As one JD(U) minister told ThePrint: “There is a sharp contrast in the way the BJP at the Centre treated its ally JD(U), and how Nitish treats his ally BJP in Bihar.”
But the door on the JD(U) eventually joining the Modi ministry at the Centre is not firmly hut. The party’s national spokesperson K.C. Tyagi has hinted that the JD(U) is not adverse to joining the ministry, provided it is given a “suitable offer”.
As a senior JD(U) leader remarked: “Nitish has left the gates for reconciliation open, even though he has given a message that he will not be cowed down by BJP’s spectacular win in the Lok Sabha polls.”