March 2000: When Nitish quit as CM, before floor test

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. (PTI Photo)

Around 19 years ago, a similar situation, much like the present imbroglio in Maharashtra, arose in Bihar where the then Governor Vinod Chandra Pande sworn in Nitish Kumar as the Chief Minister of undivided Bihar.

Nitish, then a Samata Party leader and a Union Minister in Vajpayee Cabinet, claimed the support of 151 MLAs in the 324-member House after February 2000 Assembly polls This was eight less than 159 MLAs’ support claimed by Lalu, who had the backing of Congress. Both were marginally less than the halfway mark of 163.

On March 3, 2000, Nitish was sworn in (at the behest of Vajpayee Govt) as Bihar CM, throwing all democratic norms to the wind. From day one, Nitish knew he did not have the requisite numbers. But even then, he was administered the oath of office. During those days, much like today, a BJP-led Government was there at the Centre headed by relatively suave Atal Bihari Vajpayee. However, it was the then Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, flanked by his Cabinet colleague George Fernandes, who ensured Nitish’s swearing-in.

The RJD cried foul. Lalu’s rampaging supporters took to streets. Accusing fingers were raised at Advani, George and the then Governor Pande. Both the camps claimed a majority and kept their flock together, including the vulnerable 23 Congress MLAs who were under the hawk’s eyes of muscleman-turned-Siwan MP, Mohammad Shahabuddin, at ITDC-run Hotel Ashoka Pataliputra here in the State Capital.

Eventually, the Governor asked Nitish to face the confidence motion as it was only a trust vote on the floor of the House which could have decided who enjoyed majority.

On March 9, 2000, the senior-most Congress MLA from Kahalgaon, Sadanand Singh, was elected as Speaker of the Assembly. NDA withdrew from the race of Speaker fearing an imminent defeat of its nominee. The BJP and Samata Party made an unsuccessful bid to lure Congress and wean away at least eight MLAs from South Bihar (now called Jharkhand). 

However, the poaching/horse-trading could not fructify as Lalu, an ever-watchful leader in his heydays, reached the ‘meeting points’ much ahead of poachers from the rival camps.

On March 10, Nitish, realising that he could not prove his numbers, resigned as Chief Minister, without facing the floor test. Eventually, Rabri was sworn in as CM, while Congress got the post of Speaker and other ministerial berths.

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