Nitish Kumar took oath as chief minister of Bihar for a fourth term but with just 10 ministers, although given the size of the assembly he is allowed 20, indicating that a Cabinet expansion might not be too far off.
For the first time in its history, the state got two deputy chief ministers, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, both from the BJP. The notable change this time was: Sushil Modi, former finance minister and deputy chief minister was not by the CM’s side.
The council of ministers, truncated as it is, had representation proportionate to the strength of parties in the NDA alliance. As the BJP’s nominees in the government both Prasad and Renu Devi, who have no experience of being ministers (neither has been to university) clearly have a political agenda: to recraft policies of the administration according to the priorities on the BJP. Both have served in the legislative assembly for multiple terms. While Prasad belongs to the Vaishya community (the same caste as Sushil Modi), Renu Devi comes from the extremely backward Nonia community.
The ‘performers’ in the government will be the JDU ministers — Vijay Kumar Choudhary, Vijendra Prasad Yadav, and Ashok Choudhary. Vijay Choudhary has been MLA for five times and was speaker in the last JDU-BJP government. Bijendra Prasad Yadav was minister for energy and power in the outgoing government. And Ashok Choudhary is a Dalit who was minister in the Rabri Devi government (2000-05), then state chief of the Congress and later shifted to the JDU. His parting from the Congress was bitter. Rahul Gandhi made him chief of the Congress though the party had lost the elections in 2013. He was the first Dalit to head the Congress in 25 years. When Nitish Kumar moved out of the RJD alliance, back to the BJP, Ashok Coudhary moved with him. He was charged with trying to split the Congress. He said he was being targeted because he was a Dalit. Either way, he moved out of the Congress in 2018 along with three MLCs. Nitish Kumar made him working president of the JDU: he fitted in well with his project of getting the Extremely Backward Castes together.
The BJP has two Cabinet ministers — Mangal Pandey and Amarendra Pratap Singh. Both are seasoned and relatively senior BJP leaders.
From among the alliance partners, Mukesh Sahni of the Viksasheel Insaan Party (VIP) who walked out of the Grand Alliance dramatically at the last minute to join the BJP-led grouping has become a minister. Santosh Kumar Suman, the son of Jitan Ram Manjhi, former chief minister of the state, has also become a minister.
The story of government formation does not end here. There are worries on several counts. Nitish Kumar’s political reflexes today are much slower than they were five years ago. He is 70 and by the time the term of the assembly ends, he will be 75. His colleagues, wary after his earlier announcement that he will not be contesting any more elections, will begin looking for other options. The BJP is the most logical one. But going to the Mahagathbandhan (given that the present government is just two more than the majority mark) is always an option. Although no speaker has been announced yet, this position will now be crucially important.
As many observers have pointed out, Kumar is chief minister all right but extremely circumscribed in his capacity to take initiative. There was a time during his second term as chief minister when Kumar would simply not let BJP work in the state. He paid no attention to their demand that students be asked to sing Vande Mataram in state run schools, and rejected most of the other demands. In his last tenure, he said Bihar will not follow the Centre’s diktat on a National Register of Citizens. But he might find it hard, with just 49 MLAs to be as assertive this time.
Worse, not only is the MIM active in the state but also the BJP-JDU government faces a tough and aggressive opposition. It will take effort and constant monitoring to prevent riots –- both caste and communal. said political analyst Ram Sahayak: “What Kumar did in 15 years, he will now have to do in five. This vote is for jobs”.
The unknown unknown in the state is Sushil Modi. While it is almost certain that he has been pensioned off in the BJP’s politics in the state — which he resolutely refused to leave despite blandishments — his work as finance minister, especially in the GST Council has not gone unnoticed. The compulsion to accommodate him makes a central cabinet reshuffle imminent.