Patna: Acknowledging for the first time the delay in his cabinet expansion a month after taking oath, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Tuesday said he is yet to get any proposal from the BJP.
“I have not received any proposal from the BJP for cabinet expansion. When it comes, it will be expanded,” he told reporters after inspecting the work for the expansion of Patna airport.
Nitish’s remarks have been echoing in the corridors of power for the last two weeks and yet the BJP has not come up with a specific date on which it would submit the list of MLAs to be inducted in the cabinet.
The BJP, meanwhile, downplayed the issue of cabinet expansion, saying it will be done soon.
“The (BJP) national general secretary Bhupender Yadav was busy in the Hyderabad municipal elections. Now he is free, the issue will be decided,” BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel told ThePrint.
BJP sources, however, said the cabinet expansion has been delayed as Nitish is still trying to “play the big brother role and has asked the BJP for a 50:50 distribution of portfolios”.
Meanwhile, the CM’s remarks have triggered ridicule from the opposition RJD.
“It shows how weak Nitish Kumar has become. He cannot expand the cabinet without the nod of BJP leadership. He has surrendered before the BJP,” said senior RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari.
‘Nitish still trying to play big brother’
BJP sources said distribution of power sharing has not been finalised yet, which have resulted in this delay.
“Nitish ji is still trying to play the big brother role and has asked the BJP for a 50:50 distribution of portfolios between the alliance partners. We are keen to have important portfolios like education, water resources and home. Nitish ji is not willing to give us these portfolios and handed over minor portfolios like disaster management and Panchayati Raj to us,” a source said.
He added that power balance has to be maintained since the BJP with 74 MLAs is the senior partner in the coalition and the JD(U) with 43 is the junior partner.
Two-day BJP meeting brainstorms on ‘New Bihar BJP’
Bhupender Yadav, the man who is supposed to hand over the list of MLAs to Nitish, was in Bihar from Sunday evening to Tuesday evening to attend a closed-door brainstorming session of state BJP leaders, said party sources.
The meeting was attended by Union minister Nityanand Rai, state BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal and two deputy CMs, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi.
None of the party’s old guard, who held sway over the BJP before the assembly polls, were invited.
The two-day session, which ended Tuesday, focused on the ‘new Bihar BJP’ and how to bring in new faces both in the cabinet and the party organisation.
The state BJP leadership has been asked to identify new faces in all the 243 assembly segments of Bihar so that the party remains in a better condition to fight polls whenever elections are held, said BJP sources.
The two deputy CMs have been asked to ensure implementation of the BJP’s election manifesto promises such as free Covid vaccines for all and generating 19 lakh jobs.
The meeting, however, didn’t discuss how to coordinate with ally JD(U) in governance-related matters.
Asked about it, a senior BJP leader said: “It is a warning to Nitish Kumar that the party is ready to move with or without him.”
Old guard in ‘Margdarshak group’
Several of the Bihar BJP’s senior leaders — Nand Kishore Yadav, Prem Kumar, Ram Narayan Mandal and Vinod Narayan — were made chairpersons of assembly committees by speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha Monday after he formed 22 committees of the House.
This indicated that these leaders will not be inducted in the expanded cabinet.
“They have been shifted to what is called in the political circles the ‘Margdarshak group’,” said the above-quoted BJP leader.
‘Good if the expansion takes place soon’
Meanwhile, Nitish held a cabinet meeting Tuesday — the second one after 17 November.
The cabinet approved free Covid vaccines for all and creation of around 20 lakh jobs, said an official statement.
Bihar with 243 MLAs can have a cabinet strength of 37 ministers, including the CM. At present, there are only 14 ministers, including the CM.
JD(U) ministers, many of whom have been allotted four to five portfolios each, can’t wait to have the cabinet expanded.
“I do not know which ministry will remain with me and which will be given to other ministers when the expansion takes place. It will be good if the expansion takes place soon,” said a JD(U) minister on condition of anonymity.