Patna: The 'dinner diplomacy' by pro-Nitish Kumar ministers at the residence of a senior minister Wednesday night fuelled speculation of attempts to replace Jitan Ram Manjhi by another Dalit in the Chief Minister's post.
The ministers owing allegiance to Nitish Kumar who attended the dinner at the residence of Food Minister Shyam Rajak were tightlipped as to what transpired there.
In political circles, the get-together is being seen as an attempt by the Nitish camp to signal a strong warning to Manjhi, whose assertions and action of changing IAS officers close to Nitish have not been taken kindly, or change him by Rajak who is also a dalit.
More than 18 ministers who attended the dinner at Rajak residence, savoured 'Litti Chokha' (a traditional Bihari dish), while other invitees including Vijay Chaudhary, Mahachandra Singh and Manoj Kushwaha were conspicuous by their absence.
Some ministers, including the trio - Narendra Singh, Brishen Patel and Nitish Mishra - who had reportedly sided with Manjhi were, however, kept away.
When his reaction was sought, Rajak said it was a personal 'event' and no political meaning should be attached.
"Some ministerial friends had asked me to treat them with Litti Chokha during the last cabinet meeting. That's why I hosted dinner last night," Rajak said.
Asked if there was a move to replace Manjhi with another dalit (Rajak), he replied, "There is no vacancy on CM post."
In reply to a question if he enjoyed confidence of both Nitish and RJD president Lalu Prasad, Rajak described the two as "guardians" whose blessings guide him.
Ministers present at Rajak's home included Bijendra Prasad Yadav, Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lallan, Shrawan Kumar, P K Shahi, Ramdhani Singh, Jai Kumar Singh, Awdesh Kushwaha, Lesi Singh, Binod Prasad Yadav, Dulal Chand Goswami, Samrat Chaudhary, Ranju Geeta and Shahid Ali Khan among others.
Meanwhile, as speculation was rife, Rajak accompanied Manjhi today on his official tour to Banka and later in the day at Gaya.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh, considered close to Manjhi and whose resignation was demanded by spokesman Ajay Alok along with two others for reported proximity with BJP, told reporters that he has introduced senior leaders of party including JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and state party head Basistha Narayan Singh about "unwanted" utterances by small leaders in the party.
"Now they have to decide whether to run the party or demolish it," he said.