Growing unrest in NDA over ministerial berths leaves Nitish govt on razor edge

The latest cabinet expansion has triggered revolt from at least three leaders nursing ministerial ambition, putting the alliance with 125 members — just three more than simple majority — in a precarious position

The ruling alliance enjoys just a wafer-thin majority in the Assembly and the growing disquiet in it over ministerial posts has set alarm bells ringing for the Nitish Kumar government.

The present Nitish Kumar government in Bihar seems to be tumbling from one crisis to another. First, the Cabinet expansion got delayed by about three months due to severe internal contradictions. Now that the expansion has finally taken place, it has triggered revolt within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The ruling alliance enjoys just wafer-thin majority in the Assembly and this has set alarm bells ringing for the Nitish government.

Pulls and pressures are nothing new to Indian politics, but the problem with the Bihar NDA is that it enjoys only a simple majority in the House of 243. The NDA has only 125 members — just three more than the 122 needed for a simple majority, while the Opposition Grand Alliance is just 12 short of majority. Add to that, many leaders nurse ministerial ambitions, which has caused fresh trouble for the government. With the NDA growing weaker by the day, it is not in a position to tackle the voice of revolt that is getting louder by the day.

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Currently, as many as three leaders have raised banners of revolt against the NDA over not being given ministerial berths — VIP president Mukesh Sahni, BJP legislator Gyanedra Singh Gyanu and JD-U legislator Gopal Mandal. Both Gyanu and Mandal are four-time legislators.

Gyanu has charged the BJP leadership with turning the organisation into the party of “Yadavs and Baniyas” (businessmen). He alleged that able, experienced and deserving candidates have been given a raw deal in portfolio distribution whereas freshers, undeserving and persons with criminal antecedents have been given a place in the cabinet.

“They (the BJP) need the votes of upper castes, but when it comes to giving them their due, they are sidelined. The party has become backward-oriented. Why should forwards vote for the BJP?” asked Gyanu. He wondered how none from the upper castes was appointed the deputy chief minister although about 50 per cent of the total BJP legislators are from this community. The BJP has appointed two deputy CMs in Bihar this time.

“Deserving candidates have not been given a place in the cabinet, but those who didn’t win or have less experience or are criminals have been included,” Gyanu alleged. He claimed he had the support of about 15 legislators and would be deciding over the next course of action soon. “We will be meeting the prime minister (Narendra Modi) and home minister (Amit Shah) very soon and apprise them of the anguish among the legislators,” he said.

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VIP chief Sahni, on the other hand, rushed to Delhi to meet Amit Shah and express his anguish. The VIP has four legislators in the Bihar Assembly, but none of them has been included in the Cabinet. Instead, Sahni who lost the election, was made the minister. Sahni wanted at least one of the four included in the cabinet but his demand was not met. Sahni’s apprehension is that the denial of berth to his elected legislators may force him to revolt and ultimately quit the alliance, which may leave him in distress. “I had been promised another ministerial berth for my party, but the party was entirely ignored during the cabinet expansion,” Sahni said. His other grievance is that he has not been allotted the “creamy” portfolio. Party insiders say he wanted the Public Works Department but was given the rather “tainted” Animal Husbandry.

JD-U legislator Gopal Mandal is also annoyed over not being included in the cabinet. “I was hopeful of getting a berth in the cabinet and had been camping in Patna for the past one week but am shocked to find I have no place in the cabinet,” he said. “Aakhir mujhme kya kami thi (What is it that I lacked)?” he wondered.

“The fact is that the Nitish Kumar government is walking on a razor edge as everything is not fine within the ruling alliance. What is disgusting, however, is that instead of efficiency, the top NDA leadership is making appeasement in the name of caste, creed and community as its criteria for picking up ministers. This has caused unrest within the NDA,” political analyst DM Diwakar said. Diwakar, who served as the director of the AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies in Patna, explains: “You can satisfy all, but had the NDA leadership followed a standard criteria, the situation would not have become this messy.” Currently, a good number of freshers have been inducted as ministers whereas old and experienced ones have been kept aside, he said.

Diwakar is also alarmed at the inclusion of “crorepatis” in the Nitish cabinet, which he describes as a very disturbing trend. As per the report of the Association for Democratic Reforms, 93 per cent of the ministers are “crorepatis” (millionaires). “When there is no entry for common people in the Nitish ministry, then who will raise the voice of the common people?” asks Diwakar.

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The NDA has been caught in trouble right since the assembly elections in the state held in October/November last year when the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) headed by Chirag Paswan, the son of late Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan, decided to field candidates against it. Strangely, while the LJP put up candidates against the JD-U, it refrained from fielding candidates against the BJP. The result was that the sharp split in NDA votes restricted the JD-U tally to a meagre 43 seats whereas the BJP’s tally went up to 74. What was more humiliating for the JD-U was that it was relegated to the distant third slot and the party leadership has been blaming the BJP leadership for this. The JD-U leaders say the BJP leadership didn’t try to end confusion from the minds of voters by clearly stating that the LJP was not the part of the NDA, which spoiled the JD-U’s poll prospects.

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