In Bihar, talk of defection in the air as parties gear up for floor test

In the 243-member Bihar assembly, BJP (78), JDU (45) and HAM (04) have 127 members

Chief minister Nitish Kumar will seek trust vote in Bihar Assembly on Monday
Chief minister Nitish Kumar will seek trust vote in Bihar Assembly on Monday

A.J. Prabal

During the last four years, no MLA from any party in Bihar defected even when Nitish Kumar broke away from the NDA and joined hands with the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan. Ahead of the floor test on Monday, 12 February, however, there is intense speculation about a big surprise.

The speculation was fuelled by three factors. The length of time given to Nitish Kumar to prove his majority led to talks that all was not well in the JD(U) and that some of his legislators were not happy about the switch back to the NDA. Kumar who resigned as chief minister on 28 January this year in the morning, took oath as chief minister the same afternoon after BJP and HAM extended their support to him for forming the government. The trust vote for unexplained reasons was delayed till 12 February, triggering speculation of horse trading.

The statement by Tejashwi Yadav, who was the deputy chief minister till the morning of 28 January and was presumably caught unawares by the somersault by Nitish Kumar, that the game was not over yet, added fuel to the fire. Reiterating Trinamool Congress’s war cry in the West Bengal election ‘Khela Hobe’, Tejashwi Yadav too asked the media and his supporters to wait and watch till the end for the Khela (game).

The second factor that fuelled speculation was the move by political parties to herd their legislators to protect them from poaching. While the Congress flew their legislators to a resort on the outskirts of Hyderabad, a more confident BJP took its legislators to a resort in Bodh Gaya for ‘training’.

The third factor that helped fuel the speculation was statements given by an apparently disgruntled Jitan Ram Manjhi, the support of whose four MLAs is crucial for the survival of the government. Manjhi made no secret that he was unhappy with the number of ministerial posts given to his group and also the portfolios given to his son. The arrival of a CPI(ML) legislator at Manjhi’s house on Saturday added to the rumours.

JD(U) MLAs on Saturday met for lunch in the house of minister Shravan Kumar. The chief minister Nitish Kumar was present but did not wait for the lunch. They will be meeting again on Sunday at a High Tea hosted by another minister, Vijay Kumar Chaudhary. Later in the afternoon, a meeting of RJD legislators was held at the residence of former chief ministers Rabri Devi and Lalu Prasad Yadav amidst speculation that as many as 10 RJD legislators were ‘missing’.

A new twist was added by reports that a no-confidence motion had been submitted against the Speaker of the Assembly. While the ruling alliance exuded confidence about winning both the trust votes for the government as well as the Speaker, Assembly sources claimed that rules provided a 14-day notice for the no-confidence motion against the speaker to be taken up.

The NDA’s wafer-thin majority, by five votes to be precise, is at the heart of the speculation. While it is enough, it would do the NDA no harm if it can poach some RJD MLAs to defect. With the Supreme Court and the Election Commission having allowed defections in Maharashtra in both the Shiv Sena and the NCP—with the defectors in power—it is open season for defections. 

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