Trouble seemed to be brewing for the ruling JD(U) ahead of the Rajya Sabha bypoll in Bihar on June 19 with a dissident leader claiming that 33 MLAs skipped the legislature party meeting here this evening.
Party chief Sharad Yadav tried to play down absence of a large number of MLAs and expressed confidence that the party would win in bypoll for the two RS seats.
Asked how many MLAs skipped the meeting, Yadav said "I have not counted the number."
State minister Vijay Chaudhary told reporters that except for a handful of rebels, many MLAs who could not make it to the meeting had informed the party before hand about it, citing personal reasons.
He said the two candidates for RS bypoll, diplomat- politician Pawan Varma and Gulam Rasool Balyawi attended the meeting.
Another minister Ramai Ram said that MLAs present spoke of defeating the evil designs of BJP to topple Jitan Ram Manjhi government.
Gyanendra Singh Gyanu, leader of the dissident group who was among those absent at the meeting at the Chief Minister's residence claimed that 33 MLAs did not attend.
He also claimed that many who attended the meeting would side with them during voting during the Rajya Sabha bypoll, which has turned into a trial of strength.Another dissident leader also claimed that 32 party MLAs did not attend.
A prominent dissident MLA requesting anonymity said they were still in JD(U) but were absent to protest lack of inner party discipline.
JD(U) has 117 MLAs, including the Speaker, BJP 84, RJD 21, Congress 4, CPI 1 and Independents 5. Since the arithmetic is weighing against ruling JD(U), the support of 21 RJD MLAs is crucial for it in a House of 243, with an effective strength of 232 because of 11 vacancies.
Given its strength, victory for JD(U)'s two candidates by securing 51 per cent votes against Independents would not have been difficult.
But with a sizeable section of JD(U) MLAs turning rebels and openly supporting nomination of Independents and the BJP indicating to help to them, the situation has become tricky for Nitish Kumar's party.
A dissident MLA said, "Two outsiders from Uttar Pradesh -- Pawan Varma and Gulam Rasool Balyawi -- have been made nominees for the RS bypoll when the party claims to protect the interest of Bihar."
Defectors from other parties had been made ministers at the cost of genuine party workers, he alleged.
There was no official head count of MLAs attending the meeting, which was attended by party chief Sharad Yadav and former chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Meanwhile, the state Chief Electoral Officer in a communique to the Assembly Secretary with a copy of past decisions of the Supreme Court said that legislators should have freedom for open voting.
The communique was put up on Assembly notice boards and leaders of all the political parties were forwarded a copy of it, Assembly Secretary Hareram Mukhiya, returning officer for the RS bypoll, said.