Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar will take oath as Bihar chief minister for a record fourth consecutive term on Monday. He was formally elected leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at a meeting of NDA MLAs at his official residence in Patna.
Before the start of the NDA meeting, Nitish was elected leader of the JD(U) legislative party by his party legislators. The JD(U) had received only 43 seats following the counting of votes on November 10, but the BJP’s tally of 74 pushed the NDA beyond the majority mark of 122.
The party to emerge as the single-largest was the RJD with 75 seats but an underwhelming performance by the Congress, at just 19 seats, meant the Mahagathbandhan fell short of the half-way mark in the 243-member assembly. Both RJD and Congress on Sunday questioned the NDA’s decision to make Nitish the CM again despite him not getting the mandate.
The BJP, the main constituent of the NDA, had said before the elections that the JD-U president would remain the chief ministerial choice irrespective of which party gets more seats.
Shortly after the NDA meeting, Kumar met Governor Phagu Chauhan and staked claim for the formation of the new government in the state. Talking to reporters outside his residence upon returning from Raj Bhavan, Kumar said the swearing-in will take place on Monday evening and parried questions about details like whether Modi would be returning as his deputy.
"The Governor was handed over the letter of support from all four constituents of the NDA. As per his direction, we shall be taking oath at the Raj Bhavan, tomorrow, around 4pm-4.30pm," said Kumar, who is on course to become the longest serving Bihar Chief Minister.
"After the swearing-in, we will convene the meeting of the cabinet where a decision on convening the assembly session will be taken," said Kumar but evaded queries as to whether the BJP, which has won more seats than the Chief Ministers JD(U), has sought a greater representation in the cabinet.
With the CM question settled firmly in Nitish’s favour, all eyes are now on who the deputy chief minister will be. There is some suspense whether Sushil Kumar Modi will continue as deputy chief minister or if the saffron party will choose a new face. The speculation intensified after Tarkishore Prasad was unanimously elected as the leader of BJP legislature party.
Shortly after Kumar's return from the Raj Bhavan, Union minister Rajnath Singh and Modi met the Governor, fuelling further speculation about future of the latter in the states politics. Asked whether Modi will be the deputy chief minister again, Singh said: "It will be known in due course."
There are strong indications that Modi, who has been deputy chief minister since 2005 and is known to share an excellent rapport with Kumar, may be retained. Modi accompanied Singh, who is in Bihar to oversee the NDA meeting in run-up to the government formation, from the state guesthouse to the chief minister's residence, giving credence to the speculation.
It will also be interesting to see who all from the four NDA constituents -- the BJP, JD(U), Hindustani Awam Morcha and Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) -- form the state cabinet.
The outgoing Bihar government had a total of 30 ministers, including Kumar and Modi. Among them 18 were from the JD(U) and the rest 12 from the BJP.
With the BJP emerging as the largest party in the NDA with 74 MLAs and the JD(U)'s tally going down to 43 from 71, it would be interesting to see if the saffron party will insist on having a larger share in the cabinet. A total of 24 ministers of the previous cabinet had contested the polls and 10 of them, both from both the JD(U) and the BJP, lost.
Kumar, Modi and four others are members of the state's Legislative Council and did not contest the polls. Among the losing ministers from the JD(U) are Shailesh Kumar, Santosh Kumar Nirala, Jay Kumar Singh, Krishnandan Verma, Ram Sevak Singh, Ramewsh Rishideo, Khursid alias Firoz Ahmed and Lakshmeshwar Rai.
From the BJP, Suresh Kumar Sharma and Brij Kumar Bind are the two ministers who lost. Since, two pre-poll constituents HAM and VIP have won four seats each, pushing the NDA's tally past the magic figure of 122, there will be representation from them in the cabinet this time.
Jitan Ram Manjhi, who heads the HAM has made it clear that since he has already served as chief minister he won't take up any ministerial assignment.