Nitish Kumar will take oath as Bihar Chief Minister on Thursday with support from his erstwhile partner BJP after he dropped a political bombshell and quit the post on Wednesday evening.
In his surprise decision, on a day of high political drama, Nitish sank the grand alliance he had formed with the RJD and the Congress about 20 months ago to deal the BJP a rare state defeat.
Nitish said he had responded to the “voice of conscience” as it had become impossible to function in the coalition, referring to a maze of corruption charges against RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and his two sons — Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav and Health Minister Tej Pratap Yadav.
Soon after the resignation, JD (U) and BJP leaders met at Nitish’s residence in Patna to finalise the contours of the new government. The swearing-in ceremony is likely to take place at 5 pm.
Going by sheer numbers (see graphics), the JD (U) and the BJP are in a position to secure a narrow majority in the Bihar Assembly.
Meanwhile, Bihar Governor KN Tripathi had to be admitted to a hospital in Patna due to a nasal infection, but was discharged later in the night.
Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who was Nitish’s deputy in his previous government, is likely to get the same portfolio. NDA and JD(U) MLAs will meet and elect Nitish as their leader, BJP will be part of the government, said Sushil Modi.
BJP’s Anil Jain and JP Nadda will travel to Patna on Thursday.
PM Narendra Modi and many BJP leaders from Delhi are likely to attend the oath taking, but there was no official confirmation.
Lalu reacted angrily and attacked Nitish, asking if he did not know about the alleged corruption charges when he formed the government. “Nitish knew he was facing murder and Arms Act charges,” said Lalu, indicating he had already struck a deal with the BJP to form a new government in Bihar.
Nitish was likely to meet the Governor late in the night to stake claim to form the government. The RJD, the single largest party in the Assembly, also sought time from Tripathi to stake a counter claim.
The Congress will observe a “vishwasghat diwas” in Bihar on Thursday. “We are deeply disappointed,” said Randeep Surjewala of the party whose vice-president Rahul Gandhi was apparently kept out of the loop by Nitish on his resignation.
The move can shake up national politics as it comes as a big setback for Opposition parties trying to stitch together an alliance around the likes of Nitish against Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 2019 general elections.
“In the circumstances that prevail in Bihar, it became difficult to run the government,” Nitish told reporters outside Raj Bhavan after submitting his resignation to Governor Tripathi, who accepted the same but asked him to continue as the officiating CM till an alternative arrangement was put in place.
PM Modi immediately put out a tweet and congratulated Kumar for “joining the fight against corruption”. Nitish also reciprocated and thanked the PM.
Having snapped ties with the BJP and walked out of the NDA in 2013, Nitish was heading Bihar’s Mahagathbandhan government, always seen as an alliance of contradictions.
Nitish’s decisions to back the NDA’s Presidential nominee and the Centre’s GST launch and Demonetisation had further escalated verbal sniping with his two allies in Bihar. Pressure was mounting on him to sack Tejashwi. Nitish’s resignation might have been triggered by Lalu’s Wednesday comment that he made him the CM and Tejashwi will not quit.
“I never asked for anyone’s resignation… I had just sought a public explanation on the allegations of corruption against Tejashwi… I tried to follow the Gathbandhan-dharma and find a solution, it’s not possible to work in this environment,” Nitish said, claiming that he had spoken to both Rahul and Lalu, but things did not work out.
Without naming the Yadav family, Nitish quoted Mahatma Gandhi, saying that there was enough to satisfy people’s need but not greed. “When I backed Demonetisation, I had asked the PM to hit out at Benami properties after Demonetisation. In such a situation, how will I answer questions on the allegations made against a member of my government?” he asked.
“They would have grown in stature had they explained, resigned. But they have lost an opportunity to re-engage with the people,” Nitish said, referring to Lalu and his sons’ alleged involvement in corruption.
“They have their way, I have mine. I will move consistently on mine. There was no way this could continue,” Kumar said, adding he had to listen to his “voice of conscience”.