Patna: Battle lines were clearly drawn in Bihar Monday as Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, expelled from the ruling JD(U), sought to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly even as his predecessor Nitish Kumar staked claim to form the government and accused Manjhi of "horse-trading".
Days after Manjhi refused to quit and dug in his heels, things came to a boil Monday, with Nitish Kumar meeting Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi and formally staking claim to form the next government.
"Manjhi is encouraging and horse-trading," Nitish Kumar told the media outside Raj Bhavan here after he, along with Janata-Dal United chief Sharad Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, met the governor.
Nitish Kumar, along with 130 legislators of his JD(U), the RJD, the Congress and the Communist Party of India, marched to Raj Bhavan.
Manjhi, hand-picked by then chief minister Nitish Kumar as his replacement when he quit last year after the JD(U)'s rout in the Lok Sabha polls, also met the governor and sought to prove his majority in the assembly but by "secret ballot".
In the 243-member assembly, the JD(U) has 115 legislators -- most of whom are reportedly with Nitish Kumar. It is backed by 24 legislators of the RJD, five of the Congress, two Independents and one from the CPI.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 88 legislators and is supported by three Independents.
Nitish Kumar accused Manjhi of trying to organise defections to stay in power.
"It appears that Manjhi has got a horse-trading licence after he met Modi in Delhi," he said, referring to the chief minister's meeting in Delhi Sunday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"We, including Sharad Yadav and Lalu Prasad, have informed Governor Tripathi that majority is with us and we are ready to prove it in the state assembly any time either today (Monday), or within 24 or 48 hours," he said.
Nitish Kumar said they will wait for the decision of the governor to invite him to take oath and form the next government.
But he warned that if the governor failed to invite him soon, they will parade their legislators before the president in Delhi.
Manjhi was still defiant. "I am not running away. I am ready to prove my majority in the state assembly whenever Governor Tripathi invites me for it," he told the media outside Raj Bhawan after meeting Tripathi.
Terming the ongoing move to replace him "a conspiracy against a Mahadalit", he said he requested the governor to provide him the chance to prove his majority Feb 19, 20 or 23. The assembly session will begin Feb 20.
Hours earlier, the JD(U) expelled Manjhi from the party, and blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party for orchestrating the episode.
"Manjhi has been expelled from the party (for six years). He has been indulging in anti-party activities," JD(U) leader KC Tyagi said in Delhi Monday.
"All the things that happened were scripted. Operation Jitan Ram Manjhi has been orchestrated by (BJP president) Amit Shah," he added.
In Patna, JD(U) leader Shrawan Kumar, who is considered close to Nitish Kumar, told IANS that the party has also informed Governor Tripathi about Manjhi's expulsion.
Nitish Kumar was re-elected the JD(U) legislature party leader Saturday.
JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar said the numbers are with Nitish Kumar as he enjoys the support of the majority of the party legislators and its allies, the RJD and the Congress.
According to JD(U) sources, only 12 party legislators are with Manjhi.
Meanwhile, Manjhi's loyalist JD(U) legislator Rajeshwar Raj Monday petitioned the Patna High Court against Sharad Yadav who, he contended, "illegally" and "unconstitutionally" summoned a legislature party meeting which elected Nitish Kumar as its new leader.
Manjhi had already termed Yadav's decision to call the meeting illegal.