Nitish addresses the news meet outside 1 Aney Marg. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh
Patna, May 19: Nitish Kumar today stuck to his decision to give up the chief minister’s chair but sprang a surprise by picking his low-profile cabinet colleague Jitan Ram Manjhi for the post.
The 68-year-old Manjhi, who hails from Gaya, is a legislator from south Bihar’s Makhdumpur Assembly segment in Jehanabad.
Manjhi — who belongs to the Mahadalit Musahar (rat catchers) community, among the lowest in the pecking order of Bihar’s caste hierarchy — held the portfolio of SC/ST welfare in the outgoing cabinet.
Nitish had stunned all — his supporters and detractors included — by demitting office on Saturday, a day after his JD(U) suffered its worst-ever debacle in the general elections.
|Jitan Ram Manjhi at his ministerial bungalow on
Strand Road in Patna. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh
Today, after refusing to give in to the clamour of his legislators to rescind his decision to quit, Nitish again stunned one and all by choosing Manjhi as the next occupant of 1 Aney Marg, the official residence of the chief minister in Patna. Nitish himself is expected to move into the bungalow at 11 Strand Road.
Manjhi said he himself had no clue about Nitish’s decision. “I was not aware that I am going to become the chief minister until Nitish called me to 1 Aney Marg to tell me that this house is now yours,” Manjhi said after Nitish escorted him to Raj Bhavan.
Nitish, accompanied by JD(U) national president Sharad Yadav and Manjhi, met Governor D.Y. Patil to inform him about the decision on who would be the legislature party leader and head of government. “We have submitted a list of 119 MLAs, including two Independents, in our support in the Assembly that has a strength of 239 as of now,” Nitish said. “Manjhi is a capable leader as he has the experience of heading government departments.”
Nitish picked Manjhi as his replacement after the ruling JD(U) legislature party unanimously authorised him to nominate his successor. Nitish, who had resigned as chief minister on Saturday owning moral responsibility for his party’s debacle in the general elections, refused to give in to the clamour of his legislators to rescind his resignation.
Through the day yesterday, the MLAs had been insistent that Nitish reconsider his decision to quit because of the JD(U)’s poor performance that saw it end up with a tally of just two seats out of the 40 up for grabs in Bihar. Nitish asked for a day to think about their demand — he was also giving his frenzied legislators, who were sitting on dharna, time to cool down.
At the legislature party meet today, Nitish explained to the MLAs why it was necessary to take “extraordinary decisions in the face of extraordinary challenges” ahead of next year’s Assembly elections and succeeded in persuading them to abide by his decision. The MLAs relented and authorised him to choose his replacement.
Sources in Raj Bhavan said the governor is likely to invite Manjhi tomorrow to take oath. “I will try to prove myself to our leader Nitishji and to the state. The challenges are enormous for it is not easy to match the standard that Nitish has set in governance. But I am happy that Nitishji has assured me of his guidance and cooperation,” Manjhi said.
The man who Nitish has picked as a “capable” replacement had two years ago earned his wrath during the chief minister’s weekly janata durbar for recommending a job. On June 11, 2012, Nitish had become enraged when he found Manjhi’s signature on an application of one Omkar Kumar Singh for a government job. “Manjhiji, how have you, as a minister, signed on such an application? Is this the way a minister should work?” Nitish had publicly rebuked Manjhi.
The BJP was quick to scoff at Nitish’s choice of Manjhi for the chief minister’s post, saying he would be a “dummy candidate”. “Nitish wants to run the government through remote control and that’s why he has chosen a dummy candidate,” said BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi.
RJD spokesman Manoj Jha today denied he has been nominated to mediate between the RJD and JD(U) for developing a framework of a possible alliance. He was referring to the report “Lalu breaks political ice” published in The Telegraph on Monday.
“There is no truth in what has been reported and also there is no veracity in the claim that any such move is on,” he said in an emailed statement to the newspaper.