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Nitish eyes cabinet expansion

Chief minister Nitish Kumar is likely expand his cabinet, awaited since the JD(U)-BJP split on June 16 that caused the exit of 11 ministers, and recommend nominations on 12 Council seats vacant for nearly two years now by the beginning of New Year.

Sources revealed that Nitish was “contemplating” to field at least three of his ministers in the Lok Sabha polls, which would bring down the number of his cabinet colleagues from 18 to 15 — an already depleted figure with the departure of 11 BJP ministers.

Nitish had for the fist time after the JD(U)-BJP split himself said while presenting the eighth report card of his government on November 25 that he would expand his cabinet. “I am not overburdened as alleged by them (BJP) because I have no business other than working for the state. Still, I will expand my cabinet, not under the duress of someone. I will do it on my own time.”

Sources close to him indicated that since the ruling JD(U) is all set to become a “key player” in the 2014 elections in Bihar, Nitish, the central figure of his party, would become excessively busy by January in deciding on the candidates, chalking political strategies apart from doing his duty as the chief minister.

“He (Nitish), in all likelihood, will find replacement for at least three ministers whom he is contemplating to field in the Lok Sabha polls. Besides, he is most likely to fill a few of the key departments, which went headless with Nitish dumping the BJP in June. Nitish would try to keep himself relatively free to give more time and energy to his party and candidates ahead of the general elections,” a source close to him said.

Apart from expanding his cabinet, Nitish might also recommend nominations on the 12 Council seats, vacant since early 2012.

It was reliably learnt that with his government and previous governor, Devanand Konwar, engaging in a feud for years, Nitish did not find it wise to recommend nominations on the Council seats, vacant under the “quota” of governor, to Konwar. Knowar had already refused his assent to some key legislations and recommendations.

Moreover, had Nitish recommended the nominations ahead of the JD(U)-BJP split, he would have to part with five seats to his then ally. With the BJP being shown the door, Nitish’s JD(U) will have all the 12 seats in its kitty now.

Sources said Nitish might use the vacant Council seats to “accommodate” several party cadres to strike a right balance of caste and region in the run-up to the 2014 elections.

He would also be compelled to accommodate the “wishes” of a few his ministers to contest the Lok Sabha polls.

The land revenue minister, Ramai Ram has openly expressed his wish to contest the Lok Sabha polls.

It has been learnt that agriculture minister Narendra Singh too is willing to contest the Lok Sabha poll from a Rajput-dominated seat.

The chief minister himself is said to be willing to field food and civil supplies minister Shyam Rajak, a Mahadalit, in the Lok Sabha poll fray to cash in on his largesse to the community over the years.

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