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Uncertainty Prevails in Bihar Over Cabinet Expansion, Distribution of Portfolios and Trust Vote

Kumar-led NDA government revised the date to seek the trust vote in the state Assembly within four days.
Kumar-led NDA government revised the date to seek the trust vote in the state Assembly within four days.

Image Courtesy: PTI

Patna: Five days after BJP and JD-U joined hands and a new NDA government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was formed, uncertainty prevails in Bihar over the expansion of his cabinet, distribution of portfolios and seeking trust vote in the state assembly. Speculation is rife here that there is a tussle between Kumar and the BJP over the distribution of portfolios, especially home and general administration. Besides, there are differences over the number of seats Kumar's JD-U will contest in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

What surprised people was that the Kumar-led NDA government revised the date to seek the trust vote in the state Assembly within four days. As per the official notification issued on Thursday, the NDA government will seek the trust vote on February 12. The election of the new Speaker will take place on the day. The NDA announced the removal of the current Speaker, Awadh Bihari Choudhary, a senior RJD leader considered close to party chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Earlier, it was announced that the NDA govt led by Kumar will seek a vote of confidence on February 10.

According to sources in the BJP, much-awaited cabinet expansion is likely to take place after the trust vote. The portfolio may be allotted to eight ministers who had taken oath along with Kumar soon because of pressure.

"There are many new aspirants for a berth in the cabinet in JD-U and BJP, and old faces, who were ministers in previous governments, are also lobbying. It is a challenge to keep all of them happy."

Political watchers here said this is the first time Kumar has been delaying the expansion of his cabinet, distribution of portfolios and trust vote.

"Kumar has been in power since 2005 in the state. He used to do everything fast soon after taking the oath, but this time, nothing is moving in accordance with his known working style. There is something between Kumar and BJP that both are taking time to resolve".

Sources in JD-U admitted that some portfolio issues are behind the delay. Kumar is not ready to hand over two important portfolios of home and general administration to BJP. Kumar has kept both departments with him and never compromised on the issue of portfolios of home and general administration with allies, either RJD or BJP, in the past.

A senior JD-U leader, who is also party MLC, said Kumar might be chief minister; he is not in a position to decide anything and function as in the past when he was part of NDA. 

"This time, the political situation on the ground has changed. BJP is demanding more and trying to play Big Brother. The delay in the cabinet expansion and distribution of portfolios results from differences between them (Kumar and BJP). This may surface in the open in coming months; at the moment, Kumar and BJP will play safely given Lok Sabha polls."

There is gossip in the political circles here that Kumar fears cross-voting by some of his own party MLAs during the trust vote in the Assembly. Considering this, he is not in the mood to create trouble for himself by expanding his cabinet ahead of the trust vote.

However, local media in the last four days reported that the opposition RJD may surprise Kumar during the trust vote as it is working to lure some JD-U MLAs, who are not happy over Kumar joining hands with BJP this time. After Kumar on Sunday (January 28) resigned as Mahagathbandhan's chief minister and staked a claim to form a new government with the support of BJP-led NDA, RJD leader and former deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav repeatedly claimed that the political game may change in the state.

Contrary to the projection that all is well in the newly formed NDA government led by Nitish Kumar, things are 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 on Sunday, BJP has made it clear not to play second fiddle to Kumar like last time. The top leadership of BJP had ignored Kumar's reservation to promote two party leaders, Samrat Choudhary and Vijay Kumar Sinha, as Deputy Chief Minister. Both Choudhary and Sinha, locally known as vocal hard critics of Kumar in BJP, were sworn in as deputy CMs.

A saffron turban-clad and bearded Choudhary, who belongs to OBC's Koeri caste, last year publicly declared that he would not remove his turban till he removed Kumar as chief minister. Choudhary repeatedly said that it was his resolve to wear a saffron turban to oust Kumar from power.

Similarly, Sinha, who belongs to the powerful landed upper caste Bhumihar, 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 said this during a heated exchange of words with Kumar in the state Assembly.

This one example is a hint enough of what role the BJP is going to play this time.

It is widely seen here that the BJP has chosen Choudhary and Sinha as his deputy chief ministers to send a strong message to Kumar. They are likely to play a more active role for the BJP in the government that is led by Kumar.

The BJP is also eyeing to contest more seats in the coming Lok Sabha elections in Bihar and reportedly told Kumar that JD-U will be given a dozen seats to contest this time. But Kumar has insisted on contesting 17 seats the party contested in 2019.

Senior JD-U leaders recalled the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when JD-U and BJP had contested an equal number of 17 seats each. BJP won 17, JD-U won 16, and BJP's ally LJP won six seats. Together, NDA won 39 of 40 seats. As per official data, 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.

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