New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had expressed his displeasure with the offer of a single berth in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, has responded to the BJP with its cabinet expansion on Sunday.
In the much-awaited expansion, Kumar included eight JD(U) leaders, while leaving only one seat for the saffron party on which the BJP still has to decide a candidate. Speaking to reporters, the Bihar chief minister said posts from the JD(U) quota in the cabinet were empty and hence the leaders were inducted, denying any issue with the BJP.
There have been talks of strain in BJP-JD(U) ties ever since Kumar spurned the cabinet berth offer, insisting on “proportional representation” for his party. On returning from the swearing-in in the Capital, Kumar reiterated that there was no trouble brewing and he turned down the offer as his party’s presence would have been “merely symbolic”.
The JD(U) president said BJP chief Amit Shah called him up on May 28 and said he wanted to meet him for discussions the next day. He said the two met in New Delhi where the BJP chief told him that his party wanted to share power with all NDA constituents, and suggested that the JD(U) accept a cabinet berth.
"I kept listening to him and the sense I had was that it was to be a symbolic presence for the JD(U) in the government. I didn't want that. Still, as he insisted, I told him that I will consult my party and get back to him," Kumar told reporters.
He said he consulted the JD(U) office bearers and MPs — 16 in the Lok Sabha and 6 in the Rajya Sabha — on the issue. "The unanimous view was that we should stay out of the ministry. Everybody felt there should be proportional representation in an alliance government," the Bihar chief minister said, adding he did not convey to Shah the number of seats he wanted for his party in the union council of ministers.
Media reports had claimed his talks with the BJP leadership collapsed as he insisted on a cabinet berth, one minister-of-state with independent charge and MoS each.
He said BJP general secretary in-charge of Bihar Bhupendra Yadav met him that night and repeated the offer. Kumar told Yadav the feeling in the JD(U) was that there should be "proportional representation" for his party.
When asked how that proportional representation would have been determined, he said, the number could be reached by taking into account the seats each party won country-wide or in Bihar.
"It was for them to decide. In any case, they had an absolute majority on their own. We were not ready for a symbolic presence in the government. We are with the (Modi) government. Being a part of it is not necessary," he said.
The JD(U)-BJP-LJP alliance in Bihar swept the Lok Sabha polls winning 39 of the state's 40 seats. The BJP and JD(U) had contested 17 seats each. While the saffron party won all the seats it contested, the JD(U) won 16. NDA allies like the Shiv Sena, which has two more MPs in the Lok Sabha than the JD(U), the LJP and the Akali Dal were all given one cabinet berth each which they readily accepted.