The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), are nearing an agreement on sharing of portfolios in the new ministry. The council of ministers may be expanded Monday (5 February).
Claims over the crucial home portfolio have delayed the expansion exercise. The home portfolio has always been with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, but the BJP wants it now.
Kumar has been reluctant to part with the home department since that will mean letting go of control over the state police and the intelligence machinery.
The BJP wants the home portfolio for its state president and Deputy Chief Minister Samrat Choudhary.
Kumar, it is learnt, has given in to pressure from the BJP and agreed to part with the home department.
In return, he wants the finance portfolio, which was held by deputy chief ministers Sushil Modi (during Kumar’s sixth tenure) and Tarkishore Prasad (in the seventh Kumar ministry).
In the eighth Kumar ministry, during the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led mahagathbandhan government, the finance portfolio reverted to the JD(U) with Kumar’s close aide Vijay Kumar Chaudhary being put in charge of the department.
But the BJP has been insisting that, as in the earlier governments of which it was a part, the finance portfolio should be under its control. The saffron party wants this department for its second Deputy Chief Minister, Vijay Kumar Sinha.
The BJP leaders in talks with Kumar over distribution of portfolios told Swarajya that the Chief Minister has been reminded of the pre-condition for JD(U)’s return to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA): the BJP would exercise major control over the administration this time.
The BJP leadership had made it clear to Kumar during negotiations for the latter’s re-entry into the NDA that he would have to relinquish his major say over how things are run in the state.
The BJP made it unequivocally clear that while Kumar would not be insulted or belittled, and would be given due respect and importance, he will not enjoy the unlimited powers that he used to wield and would have to be content with the BJP taking a lead role in running the state.
Kumar is said to have agreed to those conditions. BJP leaders have reminded him over the last few days that he had agreed to cede ground to the major partner in the NDA (the BJP) and he cannot backtrack from that commitment now.
Kumar, said BJP leaders, will have to be content with the general administration department (GAD), cabinet secretariat, vigilance, election, and a couple of minor departments.
The GAD is an important department that will vest powers of transfer and posting of bureaucrats on Kumar.
Deputy Chief Minister Samrat Chaudhary flew to New Delhi Friday (2 February) to confer with central BJP leaders about the allocation of portfolios and to get the names of the new inductees into the ministry cleared by the central leadership.
Apart from Kumar and the two Deputy Chief Ministers (Samrat Chaudhary and Vijay Kumar Sinha), the BJP’s Prem Kumar, and JD(U)’s Shravan Kumar, Vijendra Yadav, and Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, Santosh Kumar Suman of the Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM) and Independent MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) Sumit Kumar Singh were sworn in on Sunday (28 January).
BJP leaders Shahnawaz Hussain, Nitin Nabin, Rampreet Paswan, Janak Ram, and Shreyashi Singh are likely to be sworn in as ministers Monday, along with JD(U)’s Sunil Kumar Singh, Madan Sahni, Lesi Singh, Sheila Mandal, Jayant Raj, Ashok Choudhary, and Sanjay Jha.
HAM chief and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has demanded another berth in the ninth Kumar ministry. He spoke to Home Minister Amit Shah and junior Home Minister Nityanand Rai about this matter.
BJP leaders were tight-lipped about Manjhi’s demand, but JD(U) leaders indicated that Kumar is likely to accept the demand.
Another post of contention between Kumar and the BJP has been that of the Speaker. Kumar wanted a BJP leader with whom he was friendly to be made the Speaker.
After having failed to get the BJP to agree to name its Rajya Sabha MP (Member of Parliament) Sushil Kumar Modi (who had served as a deputy chief minister for many years) as the Deputy Chief Minister once again, Kumar wanted a person with whom he has a good equation to become the Speaker.
Kumar was in good terms with Sushil Modi and, hence, wanted Modi back as his deputy. But his request was summarily rejected and, instead, two fierce critics (of Kumar) were made Deputy Chief Ministers.
The BJP leadership also refused to consider Kumar’s request concerning the Speaker’s post. It is learnt that two BJP leaders, Nand Kishore Yadav and Amrendra Pratap Singh, who have been very critical of Kumar are being considered for the post of Speaker.
The BJP has already submitted a notice to the assembly secretary asking for the removal of incumbent Speaker Awadh Bihari Choudhary, who belongs to the RJD. Choudhary is expected to resign on his own accord; in case he does not, he will be removed through a no-confidence vote.
A top BJP leader told Swarajya that Kumar has accepted the ground reality that he can no longer exercise control over the state administration like he used to and will now have to accept the BJP as his senior partner in the ruling alliance.
"This acceptance on the part of Nitish Kumar has removed hurdles in the way of expansion of the ministry. The decks have been nearly cleared and the expansion is likely to happen early next week," the BJP leader said.
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