Patna: The political situation in Bihar got murkier on Thursday after assembly speaker Uday Narayan Chaudhary granted the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), the status of the principal opposition party against the government led by chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.

A day before Manjhi has to prove a majority on the floor of the house, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) protested against the decision of the speaker. The BJP, which had the status of the main opposition party in the assembly, called the decision of by the speaker arbitrary.

“Assembly secretariat has to act according to numerical strength and since JD(U) had sought the status of main opposition, we had no reason to deny them this considering their numbers," speaker Chaudhary told PTI.

The 243-member Bihar assembly has 110 JD(U) members and one unattached member in chief minister Manjhi, who was expelled from the JD(U) after rebelling against the party leadership.

The BJP has 87 members, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has 24, the Congress has five, the Communist Party of India has one and there are five independents. Ten seats are vacant.

Manjhi, who was chosen by JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar as chief minister last year, was expelled after defying a directive by the party leadership to quit the post.

The developments in Bihar politics precede the assembly election due in October-November this year.

BJP leaders were angered by the speaker’s decision to deprive the party of the status of the principal opposition party. The party called a meeting of all its members of legislative assembly (MLAs) to decide on its further course of action.

A large section of the Bihar unit of BJP is of the opinion that the party must back Manjhi, who is a member of the so-called Mahadalit community, in a show of strength in the assembly.

“This is an insult of the community Jitan Ram Manjhi belongs to. We have called a meeting of MLAs to discuss future course of action," said Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, a BJP spokesperson.

Leaders in Delhi say the party is in a dilemma.

“We cannot be seen joining hands with Jitan Ram Manjhi because it will irk our party cadre who have worked for the party in the state. But if we do not support Manjhi, we will certainly lose support of Mahadalit community, so it is a precarious situation for the BJP in Bihar," said a senior BJP leader who didn’t want to be named.

Political analysts say the BJP will likely support Manjhi in the floor test because the party cannot afford to lose Mahadalit votes.

“I expect BJP to follow the old tradition of Congress party and support Jitan Ram Manjhi. It is possible that BJP leaders will not support Manjhi in the long run," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

PTI contributed to the story.

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