Patna: JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar was sworn in as the Bihar chief minister for the seventh time Monday, and unlike in his previous terms, he was flanked by new BJP faces at the swearing-in ceremony.
As many as 15 ministers, including the chief minister, were sworn in Monday. They include six from the JD(U), seven from the BJP and one each from the Hindustani Awam Morcha and the Vikassheel Insaan Party.
Of the 15, only Tarkishore Prasad, a four-time MLA from Katihar, and Renu Devi, a four-term MLA from Bettiah, shared stage with Nitish, sparking speculation that they are the frontrunners for the deputy chief ministerial posts.
The BJP’s ministers had all the hallmarks of the party’s social engineering. So far, there has been no place in the state cabinet for veterans such as Sushil Modi, Nand Kishore Yadav and Prem Kumar.
Instead, Prasad and Devi are from the so-called backward communities. Prasad is an OBC and has a strong RSS background. He was picked from the RSS to replace Jagabandhu Adhikari, after the latter passed away, for the November 2005 elections. Since then, he has never lost the Katihar seat, which is in the state’s Seemanchal region plagued by polarisation of Hindus and Muslims.
Devi is of the Nonia caste, which is classified as an extremely backward caste (EBC) in Bihar. She rose from the Durga Vahini, women’s wing of the RSS-affiliated VHP, before joining the BJP Mahila Morcha.
She worked as an insurance agent and was given a ticket for the first time in 1995 but lost. She won for the first time in 2005, served briefly as a minister in the then Nitish government but was dropped. She later became close to the central BJP leadership and has served as the national vice-president of the mahila morcha.
The two deputy CM frontrunners also have another common factor — both are considered proteges of Sushil Kumar Modi, the deputy chief minister in the previous government.
“I will take guidance from Sushil Modi to perform and do my best to meet the expectation of my central BJP leaders,” Prasad told The Print.
Devi echoed similar views. “Sushil Kumar Modi is like an elder brother who taught me everything about politics. I will strive to meet the expectation the central leadership has from me,” she told ThePrint insisting that she enjoyed a close relationship with Nitish Kumar as well.
BJP’s social engineering & caste combinations
The BJP’s social engineering was on display on the first day of swearing-in. Of its seven ministers so far, only three are upper caste. Two of the ministers are OBC, one a Dalit and the other an EBC.
There were, however, no Muslim ministers, from any of the parties. All 11 of the JD(U) Muslim candidates lost the elections while the BJP did not field anybody from the community.
In the previous term, the BJP had seven upper caste representatives in the then 35-member cabinet. So far, the only survivor is Mangal Pandey, who was the health minister in the previous government. Amrendra Pratap Singh, a Rajput who won at Ara and Jiwesh Mishra, a Bhumihar who defeated the former AMU president Maskoor Usmani at Jale in Darbhanga district.
The party has also picked another Yadav face instead of Nand Kishore Yadav, Ram Surat Rai, a two-time MLA from Aurai in Muzaffarpur. It is being speculated that Nand Kishore Yadav will be the new speaker and the first one from the BJP in the Bihar assembly.
The Dalit face in the cabinet is Ram Prit Paswan who won from Rajnagar Madhubani district. Both Mishra and Paswan took their oath in Maithili.
BJP leaders, however, are shocked by the omission of Prem Kumar — and eight-term MLA and the EBC face of the party. Sources said central leaders are unhappy as Kumar’s supporters raised slogans calling for him to be appointed the chief minister.
The JD(U) list shows the restraint that Nitish will have to face in the new ministry. His Man Friday from Nalanda, Shravan Kumar, and close associate Sanjay Jha were not on the first list.
Other aides such as former speaker Vijay Kumar Choudhary and trusted warhorse Bijender Prasad Yadav were, however, sworn in.
Ashok Choudhary, the former Congress state president who switched over to the JD(U), is the party’s Dalit face in the cabinet. Little-known Sheela Mandal was also sworn in and so was Mewa Lal Choudhary, a Kushwaha and former vice-chancellor of Bihar Agricultural University in Sabour. Choudhary had once faced corruption charges and had underground as he was expelled from the party.
The cabinet is also made up of Mukesh Sahini, the VIP chief who lost the polls and is likely to be made MLC from BJP quota, and Santosh Manjhi, son of former CM and president of HAM, Jitan Ram Manjhi.