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Discord holds up council

- 12 seats vacant over state-governor rift

Patna, Jan. 21: As many as 12 seats in the Bihar Legislative Council supposed to be filled under the governor’s nomination quota are on hold for nearly a year with chief minister Nitish Kumar shying away from pushing the matter with Devanand Konwar, “fearing” that Raj Bhavan may not give its assent to it.

According to the NDA’s formula, seven seats are to fall in the JD(U)’s share while five would be in the BJP’s kitty. The rules and convention stipulate that the cabinet headed by the chief minister would make the recommendation for the nomination of the MLCs to the governor, which the latter should approve.

“But the chief minister is wary of making the recommendation on the vacant council seats as he is not sure of the way the governor would react,” said a source close to Nitish. “There are many instances of the governor sitting on the government’s recommendations and not abiding even by the high court’s orders on some issues.”

For instance, the sources said, Patna High Court had, on December 7, 2012, quashed the appointment of six vice-chancellors and four pro-vice-chancellors made by the governor without “consulting” the government. But on December 10, the governor allowed all the six VCs to function as “VCs in-charge till further order”.

Also, the sources pointed out, the governor has been sitting on at least five bills passed by the legislature. The legislation relate to key issues affecting education. (See Chart)

The chief minister and his deputy, Sushil Kumar Modi (BJP), are themselves members of the Upper House and as such are under “pressure” to accommodate their respective political cadres in the council. The 12 seats have been lying vacant since March last year. “It is an unusual situation which has left Nitish, otherwise known for wriggling out smoothly from difficult situations, clueless,” said an official in the chief minister’s office.

A section in the BJP believes that the chief minister could also be dithering because of the discord in the alliance. This group is of the view that Nitish is waiting for the alliance to break so that all the seats go to the JD(U).

However, sources close to the chief minister made it clear that Nitish was “very much” willing to fill the idle seats as soon as possible. “The JD(U) will gain if it has seven more seats in the council. The chief minister has already made it clear to the BJP leadership that he would pick seven from his JD(U) and five as recommended by the coalition partner,” a source close to him clarified.

Deputy chief minister Modi scoffed at talks of a rift. “This is all rubbish. This is too trivial an issue to affect the alliance. But all of you are aware about the governor’s approach in the context of many state government recommendations,” he said.

Sources in the JD(U) also revealed that Nitish could be deferring the nomination on the 12 seats because of his “preoccupation” with and “focus” on the party’s proposed Adhikar Rally in New Delhi on March 17 for special category status to Bihar.

“Who knows... if the CM sends the recommendations and the governor either returns them with some unwarranted queries or suggests some other names… it will amount to giving way to a new controversy,” an official said.