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Bihar: A Month in Power, No Cabinet Expansion of NDA Govt Yet in Sight

Speculation is rife that there are differences between Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United and Bharatiya Janata Party over several issues.
Nitish Kumar

Image Courtesy: PTI

Patna: More than a month after the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was formed in Bihar, cabinet expansion is yet to take place. This is probably the first time that Kumar, who has been in power since 2005 in the state, has delayed the cabinet expansion, raising eyebrows in political circles as well as among the public.

The delay in the much-awaited cabinet expansion is an indication that everything is not well within the NDA. Speculation is rife that there are differences between Kumar's Janata Dal-United and Bharatiya Janata Party over several issues, including running of the government, the number of seats JD-U will contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections and BJP’s strong reservation on Kumar’s likely move to dissolve the Assembly to hold state elections along with the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Early this month, BJP and JD-U leaders had claimed that cabinet expansion would take place after the trust vote on February 12. But there has been no movement in this regard due to failure of the two major ruling allies to resolve their differences.

Besides, there is a fear in Kumar's camp that several MLAs of JD-U may revolt after cabinet expansion if they do not get a berth this time. It was widely reported before the trust vote that more than half a dozen JD-U MLAs were unhappy with the party leadership. But, Kumar managed to pacify them and win the trust vote.

Political watchers here say that unlike the past, this time things are not smooth between Kumar and BJP. With the next Lok Sabha polls a few weeks away, both Kumar and BJP are not taking any risk to expose the cracks in public. This is the reason the cabinet expansion has been delayed so far.

It is expected that cabinet expansion may take place after finalisation of seat-sharing among NDA allies in the state for the Lok Sabha polls in March.

"As of now, it is the period of ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’ (poaching) and that is haunting JD-U more than BJP. The delay in cabinet expansion is part of this", Satya Narayan Madan, a political commentator, told NewsClick.

Another political watcher said there was pressure within JD-U and BJP. There are many new aspirants for a berth in the cabinet in JD-U and BJP, and old faces, who were ministers in the previous governments, are also lobbying. It is a challenge to keep all of them happy, he added.

On January 28, 2024, Kumar’s JD-U dumped its coalition partners Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties, and joined hands with BJP and its ally HAM (Hindustani Awam Morcha) and formed the new government.

Kumar, along with eight ministers, had taken oath and they were allotted portfolios in the first week of February.

Sources in JD-U and BJP have admitted that talks have been going on to resolve some issues and expand the cabinet soon. Before that, both the parties want to clear the confusion over important departments. Kumar has already kept the home and general administration departments with himself. He has never let go of these two portfolios with his allies, be it RJD or BJP.

A senior JD-U leader admitted that Kumar might be Chief Minister, but he neither has a free hand nor is in a position to decide anything and function as in the past, when he was part of the NDA.

The BJP has changed now, he said, adding that the political situation is in the saffron party’s favour. BJP is demanding more and trying to play ‘Big Brother’, he said, adding that the delay in cabinet expansion and finalisation of seat sharing was a  result of differences (between Kumar and BJP).

Contrary to the projection that ‘all is well’ in the newly formed NDA government led by Nitish Kumar, things are clearly not smooth.

Soon after Kumar's JD-U joined hands with BJP(JD-U has only 45 MLAs and BJP has 78 MLAs) and formed the government in Bihar, the latter made it clear that it would not play second fiddle to Kumar like last time. The top BJP leadership had ignored Kumar's reservation over promoting two of its party leaders -- Samrat Choudhary and Vijay Kumar Sinha -- as Deputy Chief Ministers. Both Choudhary and Sinha, locally known as vocal critics of Kumar in BJP, were sworn in as deputy CMs.

A saffron turban-clad and bearded Choudhary, who belongs to the Koeri (Other Backward Classes) caste, had last year publicly declared that he would not take off his turban till he removed Kumar as Chief Minister.

Similarly, Sinha, who belongs to the powerful landed upper caste, Bhumihar, had described Kumar as a “murderer of democracy and egotistical” in 2022 when he was Speaker of the Bihar Assembly during the last NDA (JD-U and BJP) government. Sinha had said this during a heated exchange of words with Kumar in the Assembly.

By promoting Choudhary and Sinha as Deputy CMs, the BJP has sent a strong message to Kumar that this time the party would play differently.

The BJP is also eyeing more seats in the Lok Sabha elections in Bihar and has reportedly told Kumar that JD-U would be given only a dozen seats to contest. Kumar reportedly is insisting on contesting 17 seats that the party contested in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

Senior JD-U leaders recalled the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, when JD-U and BJP had contested an equal number of 17 seats each. The BJP won all 17, JD-U won 16, and BJP's ally, Lok Janshakti Party won six seats. Together, the NDA won 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats. As per official data, the NDA polled 54.40% of votes in Bihar in 2019. Keeping this factor in view, the BJP joined hands with JD-U to repeat the last performance.

Recently, Leader of the Opposition, Tejashwi Yadav, who is former deputy chief minister, also raised the issue of delay in cabinet expansion of the NDA government led by Kumar.

"Kumar is not able to expand his cabinet even after a month. This is affecting development work in the state. Kumar should explain to the people on why the delay in cabinet expansion”, Tejashwi, an RJD leader, has been repeatedly saying during his ongoing Jan Vishwas Yatra across the state.

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