Patna | Bihar minister Santosh Kumar Suman resigned on Tuesday alleging "pressure" from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U) to merge the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) founded by his father and ex-CM Jitan Ram Manjhi.
Cabinet notification about acceptance of the resignation came shortly afterwards, in a clear indication that it was curtains for the four MLAs strong HAM in the ruling Mahagathbandhan.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, whom Suman had handed over his resignation, told reporters, "The letter of resignation speaks of the inability to stay together because of personal reasons." "This clearly implies that HAM, of which Suman is the national president, ceases to be a constituent of the Mahagathbandhan," said Chaudhary, who was accompanied by Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav and JD(U) national president Rajiv Ranjan Singh 'Lalan'.
Yadav pointed out that it was his RJD which had helped Suman get elected to the legislative council in 2018, maintaining that he did not believe the contention that he was under any type of pressure.
"I have been witness to the respect they got from the chief minister. Manjhi was made the chief minister (in 2014) by Nitish Kumar who also made his son a minister two and a half years ago and helped the latter retain his ministerial berth last year, when HAM followed JD(U) in quitting NDA and joining Mahagathbandhan," said Yadav.
Lalan ridiculed the contention of Suman, who held SC and ST welfare portfolio, that JD(U) was putting pressure for a merger.
"When two parties are aligned together, talks centre around many topics. Of course, we were of the view that it was no point in their party surviving like a tiny shape and they would only grow stronger if they merge. But it was for them to accept or reject the proposal. How could anybody have forced it on them?" said Lalan.
He also asserted that the development was no setback to the meeting of opposition parties scheduled here on June 23.
Speculations were rife that the development, which marks the third resignation of a minister since the Mahagathbandhan government was formed in August last year, has led to fresh demands for an expansion of the cabinet.
Earlier, two ministers from the RJD quota, Kartik Kumar and Sudhaker Singh, had resigned because of different reasons.
JD(U) MLA Ratnesh Sada, a Dalit leader from Sasaram district, was summoned to the chief minister's residence, triggering speculations that he might be inducted as Suman's replacement.
Congress legislature party leader Shakil Ahmed Khan, whose party is the third largest constituent of the Mahagathbandhan, and expects at least one more berth in addition to the two it holds, told PTI, "Cabinet expansion is expected for quite some time and whenever it takes place, it will be good for the ruling coalition." However, Yadav skirted queries about the same, saying that induction of ministers was the prerogative of the CM. "I, too, owe my status as Deputy CM to him." Meanwhile, Suman kept his cards close to the chest.
"We are not leaving the Mahagathbandhan. We had joined it in solidarity with Nitish Kumar whose opposition unity drive we want to succeed and whom we will be happy to see as the prime minister. If he chooses to throw us out of the coalition, we will respect that," he told PTI.
When pointed out that neither Manjhi nor he has been invited to the meeting here of leaders opposed to the BJP, Suman said that is of no great importance. "If we get an invitation at a later stage, we will be happy to attend the meeting." He added, "It is wrong to presume that we are in talks with NDA just because my father had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah some time back. Nitish Kumar remains full of admiration for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Does that mean he will go with the BJP?" Suman also said that he felt slighted over the proposal for merger as it was only the weak who are asked to surrender their independent identity.
"Would the RJD or the Congress have ever been asked to merge with JD(U)?” he asked.
"We represent a weaker section of society. We could not have picked up a fight. But we could not have insulted the sentiments of our followers. Hence I decided to register my protest by resigning," he said.
Leaders of the BJP, including its state president Samrat Choudhary and leader of the legislature party Vijay Kumar Sinha, issued statements, accusing Nitish Kumar of "humiliating Manjhi, a senior Dalit leader".
BJP MLA Pawan Jaiswal even visited the residence of Manjhi, who did not appear before the public, and told reporters later that "Manjhi is a leader who always acts in the interests of the state. Whatever decision he takes, will be respected by the NDA".
Notably, Manjhi had floated HAM in 2015, when he quit the JD(U) after being elbowed out to make way for the return of Nitish Kumar as chief minister. Months later, the party had contested the assembly polls as an NDA partner.
It was with reference to Manjhi's unceremonious exit as CM that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made the "DNA" jibe at Nitish Kumar.