Nitish Kumar's new Bihar Cabinet big gain for the BJP: With eyes on 2019, CM keeps Manjhi, Kushwaha out
With Nitish back in the NDA fold, Kushwaha's position in the alliance was weakened, which will further strain RLSP's relationship with JD(U)
After pulling out of the RJD-Congress Grand Alliance in Bihar, Nitish Kumar joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to return as the chief minister for the sixth time in the last 12 years. After a rushed swearing-in, the new Cabinet was sworn-in on Saturday. It comprises 14 JD(U), 12 BJP MLAs and a lone LJP member.
So far, the BJP looks like the biggest gainer in Nitish's new Cabinet. The junior partner in the alliance received 12 berths — its highest ever in the last 12 years. In 2010, the party had 11 ministers, when the BJP had 91 MLAs. According to a report in Hindustan Times, the increased representation of the BJP reflects that a "weaker" Nitish Kumar wants to bank on the Centre to fulfill its promise of development in Bihar.
Notably, the Centre had promised a Rs 1.65 lakh crore development package for the state in the run-up to the 2015 Assembly elections. However, the package was put in cold storage after NDA's debacle. The report noted that the BJP was alloted the portfolios of agriculture, road construction, health, urban development & housing, art and culture, and backward and extremely backward classes. These portfolios are likely to help the party strengthen its social base ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Caste factor and regional representation
The BJP also kept the caste factor in mind while recommending names for the Cabinet. A report in The Economic Times said that the BJP focussed on bringing in EBC (Extremely Backward Caste) faces into the Cabinet to shed the image of being a upper caste party.
The report noted that the backward castes and EBC ministry will be lead by a BJP minister for the first time, while the new agriculture minister is BJP's prominent EBC face Prem Kumar. Both these factors are key as the party is looking to tap the social base of Bihar, the report noted.
The BJP also considered the regional representation while deciding on the ministers. According to the report, BJP gave representation to MLAs from Kosi and Seemanchal after the party had performed poorly in those regions in 2015.
RLSP, HAM not included in Cabinet
However, not all seems well for the NDA in Bihar. RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha was reportedly miffed after none of his MLAs received a berth in the Cabinet, The Indian Express reported.
The report said that the Union minister had sent the names of two MLAs to the BJP, which approved the name of Sudhanshu Shekhar. However, Nitish Kumar shot down the recommendation, the report added.
According to a NDTV report, Kushwaha and Nitish share the Koeri vote bank which will put both leaders in an electoral conflict.
With Nitish back in the NDA fold, Kushwaha's position in the alliance was weakened, which will further strain RLSP's relationship with JD(U), The Indian Express said.
Apart from Kushwaha, the one-member Hindustan Awam Morcha, led by former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi was also left out of the Cabinet. However, Manjhi is lobbying for a Cabinet berth for himself and his son Santosh Suman.
"You have given a seat to a person from the Paswan family who is not even an MLA or MLC. Hence, there's nothing wrong if I seek a role. I am disappointed but hopeful". Manjhi told India Today while referring to LJP getting a berth in the Nitish Cabinet.
However, after the 2015 elections, when the BJP alliance with the HAM failed to tap the Mahadalit vote bank, the party is wary to keep Manjhi in the Cabinet.
Manjhi's former party JD(U) also boasts of a strong Mahadalit vote bank which may not work in the electoral calculations of Nitish.
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