| (Top) Jitan Ram Manjhi, Narendra Singh |
Patna, July 2: Chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi is here to stay.
Dispelling the notion that Manjhi was a stopgap arrangement, agriculture minister and senior JDU leader Narendra Singh today said: “He is here for the next 15 months and nobody can remove him. If our party gets the majority in the next Assembly elections, he might be elected our leader.”
Applauding the chief minister while replying to a three-hour debate on the budgetary demand of over Rs 2,800 crore for the 2014-15 fiscal, Singh said Majhi’s vision for Bihar might be greater than that of former chief minister Nitish Kumar. He even asked the BJP to help Manjhi — the first Mahadalit chief minister of the state.
Singh hailed Manjhi in response to the taunts of the BJP, especially the Leader of the Opposition, Nand Kishore Yadav. The senior BJP leader said he would hail Manjhi’s elevation as chief minister if the JDU made his job permanent. “Right now, the JDU leaders keep saying that they would contest the polls under the leadership of Nitish and that Manjhiji is a stopgap arrangement,” Yadav said.
Manjhi was handpicked by Nitish when he stepped down from the post of chief minister after a humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. When his supporters exerted pressure on him, Nitish said he would again assume the post if the people of Bihar gave him the mandate.
After assuming power, Manjhi treaded different paths from those advocated by Nitish on several occasions. The most pronounced is the party’s approach towards the dissident MLAs, who cross-voted during the Rajya Sabha bypolls. While Nitish is reportedly advocating harsh measures such as disqualification from the House, Manjhi wants reconciliation with them.
Singh’s statement came as a surprise to several JDU MLAS, most of whom praised Nitish inside the Assembly when they get an opportunity to speak completely forgetting Manjhi. “Singh has a tendency to make statements which shock the party. But he has been steadfast in his support to Nitish,” said a JDU MLA, known to be a Nitish supporter.
The MLA recalled that the minister had embarrassed Nitish on the stage in Jamui during the Lok Sabha polls campaigning. He had claimed that if he wished the JDU candidate, Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary, would lose his deposit.
A BJP leader said: “Singh’s statement suggests that Manjhi is trying to be an independent power centre in Bihar.”
Singh’s speech in the Assembly today was quite different from the party’s approach towards the BJP. While ministers like Bijendra Prasad Yadav launched a bitter attack on the BJP inside the Assembly, Singh went soft.
“There are no permanent friends and foes,” he said, recalling that the former BJP ministers were of the what problems he faced in increasing the budget of agriculture from Rs 20 crore to Rs 2,800 crore in 2005, when the NDA assumed power.
The agriculture minister also thanked the Union minister for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, Ram Vilas Paswan, for accepting his proposal to start procurement of maize in the state. He also sought help from the BJP to get incentives from the Centre.
The minister’s friendly gesture to the BJP irked some leaders of the RJD — the new-found friend of the JDU. “Agriculture is a serious issue and it should be debated seriously. We are seeing that the debate has been made a joke,” said RJD MLA Bhai Birendra.
The budgetary demand for agriculture was passed amid a walkout by the BJP.