Twenty years after he was sworn in as the youngest Union minister in the Vajpayee government, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain took the oath of office on Tuesday (February 9) as a cabinet minister in Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s government in Bihar.
Hussain (53), who was once a poster boy of the BJP, was one among the 17 new members to be sworn in as cabinet ministers by governor Phagu Chauhan at a ceremony held at the Raj Bhavan. This is Nitish Kumar government’s first cabinet expansion, and a long-awaited one, after winning the state Assembly elections in November last year.
Last month, the BJP had nominated Hussain, currently one of BJP’s national spokespersons, as a candidate in the Bihar legislative council. Hussain, who has been in a political wilderness for several years now, after unsuccessfully contesting the Bhagalpur seat in the 2014 general elections, was duly elected to the Bihar council. Many political observers wonder if his move to Bihar will help in his rehabilitation in politics or whether the BJP has used this opportunity to shunt him out of New Delhi.
Whatever may be the motivation of the BJP’s top brass, Hussain has now the opportunity, political theorists say, to become Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s tormentor-in-chief. It is well known in political circles that both leaders, who were once ministerial colleagues in the Vajpayee government at the Centre, do not share cordial relations. Hussain had publicly blamed Kumar for “taking away” his Bhagalpur Lok Sabha seat in the 2019 elections under the Janata Dal (United) quota.
However, on his relocation from New Delhi to Patna as a minister, Hussain told India Today, “It is my good fortune that I have got the opportunity to work in my homeland.”
Others who were sworn in along with him by the governor included JD(U) leaders Sanjay Kumar Jha, Shravan Kumar, Lesi Singh, Madan Sahni and Pramod Kumar of the BJP. All of them had held ministerial positions in the previous government.
Seventeen ministers have been currently inducted into Nitish Kumar’s cabinet, nine from the BJP and eight from the JD(U), taking the total number to 30. Six more berths are still to be filled.
Nitish Kumar had been dragging his feet on cabinet expansion because of his “disagreements” with the BJP and its representation in the cabinet.
Significantly, several new faces, especially from the BJP, have found a place in the cabinet expansion. The JD(U) has accommodated two new faces, Sumit Singh, an independent candidate supporting the NDA, and Jama Khan, a recent entrant from the BSP, but it has have largely retained old faces in the cabinet. Khan is the lone Muslim face from the JD(U) in the cabinet, while Singh is the youngest.
Commenting on the cabinet expansion, Bihar BJP president Sanjay Jaiswal said that talent has been given preference and social and regional balances have been kept in mind. However, he also highlighted the major generational shift in the BJP party in the state, by giving more space for new and younger leaders.