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Nitish ready to forgive, not Modi

Patna, Nov. 23: Nitish Kumar flew into Patna to a shower of garlands this afternoon to assume charge as chief minister tomorrow with state BJP chief Sushil Kumar Modi as his deputy.

They will be sworn in at 12.30 pm by Buta Singh amid calls for the governor’s head by Modi.

The newly elected MLAs of the Janata Dal (United) and BJP unanimously chose Nitish and Modi as leaders of their respective legislature parties in the Assembly. All National Democratic Alliance (NDA) legislators met later in the evening and elected Nitish their leader.

“The government will have a deputy chief minister. We will have a ministry with 11-12 members in the first round,” Nitish announced. “My priority is to put governance back on track.” Bihar can have a maximum of 36 ministers.

It took Nitish’s motorcade half an hour to thread its way out of Patna airport, teeming with NDA supporters who threw garlands at the chief minister-elect as he kept waving at them.

Minutes before the Dal (U) leader’s arrival, the car of Election Commission adviser K.J. Rao, who was to board the return flight, was stopped for some time at the airport gate by a flower-throwing crowd that shouted slogans in his praise.

Nitish has declared his government would not try to settle scores with political opponents and that the state has no role to play in the cases being heard by the courts.

But Modi was unsparing in his attack on Buta. “We have demanded that Buta Singh must be removed. There is no change in our stand,” he said.

The selection of the deputy chief minister was not smooth. The names of former Union minister Shahnawaz Hussain and MLAs-elect Nand Kishore Yadav and Ashwini Chaubey did the rounds.

BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley met several MLAs, apparently to seek their opinion on the choice of Modi as the legislature party leader. Former party president M. Venkaiah Naidu announced Modi’s name after it was proposed by Yadav and seconded by Chaubey.

“Modi, by virtue of his record of waging incessant war against RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) misrule, appeared most suited for the job,” a BJP source said. “The party also wanted someone who could stand as an equal with Nitish Kumar.”

Some Chaubey supporters protested against Modi’s selection but the Bhagalpur MLA pacified them.

Indications are that Modi will be replaced as the state BJP chief as his party has generally stuck to the one-man-one-post principle.

State Dal (U) president Bijendra Yadav said he was personally against the appointment of a deputy chief minister since it was not a constitutional post, but would accept Nitish’s decision.

The oath-taking function is likely to take on the look of a BJP show with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, along with the chief ministers of all BJP-ruled states, expected to attend. The BJP has won 55 seats and the JD(U) 88 in the 243-member House.

Earlier, the RJD elected Rabri Devi the leader of its legislature party, paving the way for her appointment as leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, a post once occupied by her husband Lalu Prasad and later, Modi.

“Victory and defeat are part of life. I am ready for the responsibility but the new government has a number of points to prove,” Rabri Devi said.

It isn’t clear if she will attend the swearing-in, but Lalu Prasad will not. The railway minister flew to Delhi today to attend Parliament’s winter session.

The Lok Sabha constituencies represented by Nitish and Modi ' Nalanda and Bhagalpur ' will now fall vacant, setting up bypolls within the next six months.

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