| NDA leaders exult after Nitish Kumar’s swearing-in on Thursday. Picture by Deepak Kumar
Patna, Nov. 24: A large but unruly crowd cheered Nitish Kumar as he was sworn in Bihar chief minister amid chants of “Buta Singh wapas jao (Buta Singh, go back)”.
The ceremony was also marred in the morning by unruly BJP workers who vandalised the party office and raised slogans at Gandhi Maidan against party leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who will be deputy chief minister. They were protesting against Patna (West) MLA Navin Kishore Sinha being left out of the ministry.
Both Nitish and Modi are members of the Lok Sabha and will have to be elected to either House of the Bihar legislature within six months.
The 27-member NDA ministry includes two others who are not members of either House ' Ramashray Prasad Singh and Narendra Singh ' both of whom had defected to the Janata Dal (United) from Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.
Although Nitish appeared to have done a fine balancing act in constituting the ministry, the pressure on him was evident. He had indicated that a “small” ministry would be sworn in, but was forced to change plans overnight and induct 26 ministers. Ten more will be added later.
The new ministry includes the sons of two former chief ministers of the state, Jagannath Mishra and Karpoori Thakur. While as many as 10 members of the upper castes found themselves in the ministry, Nitish appeared to have taken pains to include Other Backward Castes (OBCs), Dalits, Muslims and the Extremely Backward Castes as well.
Seven of the new ministers, ironically, have served under Lalu Prasad or Rabri Devi at some point.
Claiming that the state has not seen a “better ministry” in recent times, the new chief minister patted himself on the back for not including a single “tainted” face. When his attention was drawn to one name, Nitish said he would look into the case.
The BJP sought to play down the ugly scenes. “Such things happen. After all, there can be only 36 ministers and the lion’s share has to go to the JD(U) as the major partner,” Modi said, clarifying that he had merely followed the party’s directive while joining the ministry as Nitish’s deputy.
BJP insiders confided that an overwhelming majority of the MLAs had agreed that no one other than Modi had the stature to be deputy chief minister. What’s more, they hoped that Nitish and Modi would be able to work well together as they have known each other closely from the days of the JP movement when both were students of Patna University.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal reacted with sarcasm to the in-fighting in the BJP. Newly-elected MLAs and the party’s state president, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, advised Nitish to “beware of the BJP”and predicted that the new ministry had a choppy time ahead.
RJD leaders were conspicuous by their absence at the swearing-in. Lalu Prasad was away in Delhi and Rabri Devi, too, decided to skip it.
Present at Gandhi Maidan were hordes of BJP leaders, including A.B. Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Arun Jaitley, Uma Bharti, Rajnath Singh, Babulal Gaur and Babulal Marandi. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi stayed away, as he had done from the campaign in Bihar, possibly at the request of the Dal(U).
The wildest cheers were reserved for Navjot Singh Sidhu, but “Bihari Babu” Shatrughan Sinha was nowhere to be seen.