Nitish Kumar led JDU, after a much-subdued performance in the Bihar elections is now on a back foot with its alliance partner BJP. Even after almost a month in office, the government has not expanded its cabinet, and that is certainly raising some eyebrows in the political circles.
While Nitish is clawing at a 50-50 formula between JDU-BJP in cabinet expansion, BJP is in no mood to oblige. In an unexpected setback, the JDU leader has had to postpone the cabinet expansion because the BJP is no longer giving him a free hand on the issue.
Bihar has a cabinet strength of 37 ministers, including the CM. Presently, there are only 14 ministers in the assembly; four ministers from the JD(U), seven from the BJP, one minister each from HAM(S) and VIP, smaller allies in the NDA government, and one Chief Minister.
According to NDA sources, the cabinet expansion was originally supposed to take place soon after the conclusion of the first session of the 17th assembly, held in the last week of November. However, with the induction of new ministers becoming a tricky issue between the alliance partners, Nitish has postponed the expansion.
JDU has elected only 43 MLAs to the state assembly, as compared to BJP’s 74 MLAs. Logically, one should assume that the cabinet expansion should be in accordance with the number of MLAs elected to the assembly. However, Nitish Kumar unfairly insists on a 50:50 division. The Chief Minister wants JDU and BJP to get 17 ministerial posts each and HAM(S) and VIP to get 1 berth each. BJP, on the other hand, wants more seats in the cabinet, which is unacceptable to Nitish.
The cabinet expansion has now been postponed till 14th of next month. The reason given is the start of the month of Kharmas, during which it is not considered auspicious for undertaking new ventures as per astrological beliefs. However, the reality is there is no consensus between the allies.
Ratifying this, a senior BJP leader said, “JD(U) is still insisting on a 50:50 split in the cabinet and the issue is yet to be resolved. The issue of the 12 seats to be nominated by the Governor in the state legislative council has also not resolved.”
Moreover, the cabinet under Nitish Kumar hasn’t even had its first meeting since he took the oath, which, according to JDU sources “indicates the diluted powers of Nitish that he cannot make a decision without the approval of BJP leadership”.
Thus, the game of wits continues. However, with a reduced number of MLAs and diminished power in the State Assembly, Nitish Kumar has no choice but to follow BJP’s wishes.