Jitan Ram Manjhi
Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.IANS

The political crisis in Bihar is set to witness yet another turn, with Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on 8 February (Sunday), even as former CM Nitish Kumar is also set to stake claim to form a new government.

The 70-year-old leader is also likely to meet the top leadership of the BJP.

Manjhi is in New Delhi to to attend the NITI Ayog meeting, where Modi is seeking inputs from all chief ministers for Central projects and the forthcoming Budget, reports NDTV.

The meeting is seen as an attempt to prove majority in the House as and when the need arises. "We are ready for a floor test... we will seek the support of the BJP if needed," said JD(U) leader and Manjhi loyalist Mahachandra Prasad.

The floor test could happen as early as 20 February, when the state assembly's Budget session begins.

Nitish Kumar was elected the leader of JD (U) Legislature Party in a meeting called by party president Sharad Yadav on 7 February (Saturday). Of the 111 JD (U) MLAs, 97 attended the meeting and endorsed Kumar's candidature, who also got the support of 24 RJD and five Congress MLAs, according to ANI report.

Manjhi, who had called the meeting "unauthorised", wrote a letter to Governor KN Tripathi the same day, requesting him to not accept the recommendation to install Nitish Kumar as the chief minister. He also urged Tripathi to sack 15 ministers who were in favour of Kumar.

Manjhi held a cabinet meeting just ahead of Yadav's meeting to recommend dissolution of the assembly and call for fresh elections. Soon after the meeting, 20 JD (U) ministers sent in their resignation protesting against Manjhi's recommendation. 

BJP taking advantage of political fight within the party

Amid the turmoil within the JD (U), the BJP seems to have found an opportunity to indirectly control the state.

The state BJP unit wants the Governor to accept Manjhi's proposal to dissolve the state assembly and hold fresh elections, according to Hindustan Times report.

"The BJP believes it is essential to hold fresh poll to end the situation of flux arising out of the JD (U) infighting, which is taking a heavy toll on governance," leader of the opposition in the state assembly Nand Kishore Yadav told HT.

Meanwhile, Manjhi is also planning to appoint his loyalists in place of those 15 ministers he recommend for dismissal, to secure his position in the event of a floor test. He needs the support of 117 MLAs to cross the halfway mark. 

He could get the support of the BJP's 87 MLAs, the HT report added. In such a case, he would need the support of just 30 MLAs from his party to win the floor test.

"The idea is to induct 15-20 MLAs in the ministry, who would increase his support base to over 30 MLAs, enough to scale the halfway mark in the assembly with the BJP's support," HT quoted a source as saying. 

Sources in BJP have said that the party would like to want Manjhi to continue as CM in Bihar until the assembly elections, which will be held most likely in October. "It will normally take the election commission at least three or fourth months to hold elections in Bihar. That is fine with us", said a state BJP leader.

Manjhi belongs to the Dalit community, which constitutes about 20 percent of Bihar. With Manjhi emerging as a popular Dalit leader in the past few months, he could be a potential ally of the BJP. "Having synergy with Manjhi in the run-up to the poll would be just what the doctor ordered," a BJP source said.