Will Nitish Kumar’s party MPs finally join Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government? It depends on who in the Bihar Chief Minister’s Janata Dal United (JDU) is answering.
Nitish Kumar, according to sources close to him, says it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative. As of now, there is no discussion or offer, they add.
RCP Singh, the JDU national president and Nitish Kumar’s close aide, recently said the JDU would definitely be a part of the Union Cabinet whenever PM Modi carried out an expansion.
Rajiv Ranjan or Lalan Singh, the JDU’s Parliamentary Party leader, echoes the Chief Minister: “It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister.”
Both are close to Nitish Kumar and, as two of the senior most leaders in the JDU, are strong contenders for a place in PM Modi’s cabinet.
Back in 2019, when PM Modi won a second term in power, Nitish Kumar had rejected the BJP’s offer of a single cabinet spot. Two or nothing, he had insisted, arguing on the basis of proportional representation to allies.
BJP emissary and Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav had told him just one cabinet minister’s post was possible on the principle of “token representation”. It was implied that the BJP didn’t really need to go out of the way to accommodate allies, given the giant mandate for PM Modi.
The furious Bihar Chief Minister decided to stay out of the central government altogether.
The BJP is now keen on keeping its few allies happy, especially after the Bengal election blow. But for Nitish Kumar, two cabinet spots is no longer enough.
JDU leaders say Nitish Kumar is ready to revisit his stand but not entirely – this time it will be hard for him to settle for two ministries as he had demanded in 2019.
Even if the BJP betters its original offer from one to two ministries, Nitish Kumar wants at least five, say sources.
The Chief Minister has to ensure that his core vote bank, the Kushwahas, extreme backward castes and Mahadalits are represented.
His two top candidates for the cabinet remain RCP Singh (who belongs to Mr Kumar’s Kurmi caste) and Lalan Singh (upper caste).
So Mr Kumar can either ignore two of his most trusted lieutenants or the castes that have always supported him.
JDU sources say regardless of what the BJP is willing to give, Mr Kumar remains firm on his words.
As World Yoga Day was celebrated in 2015, Mr Kumar said yoga is something he did every day and would not like to make a spectacle of. Unusual words for an ally of PM Modi, who took the lead in making the day a worldwide celebration of Yoga after he first took power in 2014. The Bihar Chief Minister also avoided releasing photos in Yoga poses.
For the BJP, it was an example of Mr Kumar’s intransigence. The ruling party may find that inviting the Chief Minister’s party JDU to join the Union Cabinet may still not be easy unless he gets elbow room to adjust his core vote bank. He will need more than two ministries, say sources close to him.