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Seal of Nitish on Manjhi ministry

- ‘Supreme leader’ to guide new govt

Patna, May 20: Jitan Ram Manjhi today took oath as the 32nd chief minister of Bihar along with a 16-member cabinet, the shape and contours of which bore the stamp of Nitish Kumar loud and clear.

The 14 members of Nitish’s cabinet, all JD(U) legislators, will be part of the Manjhi ministry and retain their old portfolios. The two new additions are Dularchand Goswami and Vinay Bihari, Independent MLAs from Balrampur in Katihar and Lauria in West Champaran, who have been given the portfolios of labour resources and youth and cultural affairs respectively.

Governor D.Y. Patil, who administered the oath of office and secrecy to Manjhi, 68, and his band of 16 at a simple ceremony at Raj Bhavan, has asked the new government to prove its majority on the floor of the Assembly on May 23. Nitish was present as were representatives from almost all political parties, including the BJP, RJD and the Congress.

Absent at the ceremony was JD(U) president Sharad Yadav, though party sources insisted “too much” should not be read into his not being there.

Manjhi will keep with himself all the 16 portfolios, including finance, personnel and home, which Nitish oversaw.

But even though it was Manjhi’s hour of glory, the spotlights were firmly focussed on his redoubtable predecessor, who quit as chief minister on Saturday accepting moral responsibility for the electoral drubbing of the JD(U). Nitish, whose move was also aimed at quelling dissension in the party, handpicked his successor, preferring the low-profile Manjhi, who belongs to the Mahadalit Musahar community.

Asked about the BJP’s allegation that he will “remote control” the Manjhi government, Nitish said: “The government will functional independently. I am there to guard it from the BJP which will always conspire to destabilise our government.”

But the remarks of the newly anointed chief minister made it abundantly clear who was the real boss. “The government will implement the roadmap already prepared by Nitishji. In the capacity of our supreme leader, Nitishji is always there to guide us,” Manjhi said.

Narendra Modi, very much the man of hour in India and over whom Nitish had parted ways with the BJP, greeted Manjhi and assured support in development of the state.

“Congratulations to Shri Jitan Ram Manjhi on taking over as Bihar Chief Minister....I wish him the very best and assure support in development of Bihar,” Modi tweeted minutes after Manjhi took over as chief minister. BJP president Rajnath Singh and senior party leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who had yesterday called Nitish’s successor a “dummy” candidate, also congratulated Manjhi.

Nitish, who is now officially only an MLC, said he would go to the masses and work for strengthening the party. “It is clear now that the BJP is a party resorting to lie and hypocrisy. They had been claiming the support of 50 MLAs of the JDU. But their lies stand exposed as they were not able to form an alternative government despite getting 48 hours,” Nitish said.

It was in fact the BJP which suffered a sort of minor split with two of its rebel MLAs, Rana Rangeshwar and Vijay Kumar Mishra, resigning from the membership of the 243-member House, bringing its actual strength from 239 (as submitted by Nitish yesterday) to 237 and augmenting the JDU government’s strength indirectly.

The BJP described its MLAs’ action as part of Nitish’s “immoral” politics. “Nitish two days ago got three RJD MLAs to resign. Today he got two of our party MLAs to resign showing that he (Nitish) was resorting to horse-trading,” state BJP chief Mangal Pandey alleged.

Adding to the Manjhi government’s strength, the four-member Congress legislature party submitted its letter of support in the new ministry’s favour to the governor today.

Nitish had yesterday submitted a list of 119 members supporting the JDU government. Now, Manjhi has the support of 123 members officially supporting his government in the House that has an effective strength of 237 members against its actual strength of 243.