'Jilted' over lack of representation in Narendra Modi govt, Nitish expands Bihar cabinet to return 'one-berth' favour to BJP

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar expanded his cabinet on Sunday by inducting eight ministers. Otherwise a normal exercise and a prerogative of a chief minister, the timing and the manner in which only JD(U) lawmakers were made ministers ignoring ally BJP, has raised many eyebrows.

The sudden move by Nitish, also the president of JD(U), is being widely seen as a response to the development in New Delhi on Thursday (30 May, the day the Narendra Modi government was sworn in) when Kumar's party decided to sit out of the government peeved with Modi's offer of just one ministerial berth to the JDU. Politely, but firmly, Kumar turned down the offer. He said that he was not miffed and even attended Modi's swearing-in to maintain the all-is-well optics. But within 48 hours of returning to Patna he hit back with the finesse of a political grandmaster that he is. Out of nowhere, Kumar called on the Governor Lalji Tandon on Saturday for expanding his council of minister.

The numbers said it all: Eight ministers of JDU were sworn-in against the offer of one berth to ally BJP, which the latter unsurprisingly refused for now.

 Jilted over lack of representation in Narendra Modi govt, Nitish expands Bihar cabinet to return one-berth favour to BJP

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar in Bihar. PTI

Nitish's deputy and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, was silent and inaccessible. When pressed by the media for a reaction at the swearing-in ceremony, he just said. " Nitish ji had offered BJP for inclusion in his cabinet but the party felt that the vacancies can be filled later on."

JD(U) sources say the induction of ministers became imminent after three of the ministers were elected to Lok Sabha. Already there were vacancies and the cabinet had only 25 ministers. There was still scope for three more ministers as per the limit of maximum 36 ministers.

LJP, whose single minister has been elected to the Lok Sabha, now has no representation in Nitish cabinet. The party was not even consulted, sources said. Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan, who has been retained in the Union government, was clueless but said it was not a big issue.

Nitish also skipped deputy chief minister's Iftar party on Sunday and instead organised a "hasty" Iftar thrown by his own party.

The leaders may not admit that this could be the beginning of mistrust between the BJP and Kumar but the Bihar chief minister has already given hints through his media bytes and actions that he was not comfortable and definitely hurt with Modi's decision not to give more than one Cabinet berth to JD(U).

The growth of the BJP and its current political heft has put many regional satraps in the NDA in a highly uncomfortable position. Kumar is one of them but the JD(U) leader has shown courage and refused Modi's offer, unlike the Shiv Sena which has two more MPs than the JD(U) in Lok Sabha. Kumar believes that when the Assembly elections are held in Bihar next year, it will be his party taking the lead over the BJP in spite of the alliance.

Prem Kumar Mani, a close aide of Kumar during his political struggle days, feels that the Bihar chief minister had been humiliated but held Kumar responsible for this. "Sometimes a victory is worse than defeat. Kumar was a sad man despite a victory," said Mani. "Demanding proportional representation was unwise on part of Kumar."

He also felt that after effectively sidelining Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar politics, the BJP's next target will be Kumar. "BJP has certain ideologies and will not tolerate people openly opposing Article 370 and common civil code. They will prefer followers like Ram Vilas Paswan who can clap and raise hands to shout Vande Matram and Jai Sri Ram and not sit idle and silent like Kumar," Mani added.

But undeniably, Kumar is also a smart player. Through his cabinet expansion, he gave a befitting reply to Modi with caste chemistry. In the Union Cabinet, the BJP ignored their representation from Bihar. Of the five ministers chosen from the state, where casteism is deep-rooted, four are from upper castes and one from the backward caste. In his expansion, Kumar included eight ministers;  two Dalits, two from Economically Backward Caste, two from backward castes and two from upper castes on the agenda of equal representation.

"Kumar avenged his humiliation by ignoring the BJP and giving suitable representation to all sections in his cabinet," said a JDU functionary on condition of anonymity and added, "through his caste chemistry he has given a clear message to the people".

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Updated Date: Jun 03, 2019 16:29:58 IST