The Opposition in Bihar on Wednesday raised questions about the appointment of Janata Dal (United)’s Mewalal Choudhary as the education minister in Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s government.

Choudhary, 67, was suspended from Kumar’s party in 2017 after an FIR was registered against him over alleged irregularities in appointments during his tenure as the vice chancellor of the Bihar Agriculture University, Sabour, in Bhagalpur district. He had left the job to contest the 2015 Bihar polls on a JD(U) ticket and was elected from Tarapur Assembly seat in Munger district. He retained the constituency in the recently-concluded state polls.

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav on Wednesday pointed out that Chaudhary was appointed minister despite the fact that he has been charged with several offences, including cheating and criminal conspiracy. “Has Chief Minister Nitish Kumar awarded Mewalal Choudhary for corruption and given him the freedom to loot?” Yadav asked in a tweet.

The official handle of Yadav’s party tweeted an old news snippet where Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi demanded Chaudhary’s sacking from the erstwhile Cabinet, when Kumar had headed the government in alliance with RJD.

This was retweeted by Tejashwi Yadav’s father Lalu Prasad Yadav, whose handle is is operated by his office in consultation with his family while he is in jail in connection with a fodder scam case.

In a separate tweet, Tejashwi Yadav also attacked Kumar’s government for not appointing anybody in the Cabinet from the minority communities. Though Kumar has appointed a woman deputy chief minister, and ministers from extremely backward castes or EBCs, and Scheduled Castes, the Cabinet has no Muslim minister.

Yadav’s ally in the Opposition coalition, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation has also decided to protest against Chaudhary’s appointment from “day one of the new Assembly’s first session”, on November 23, reported PTI.

“We are requesting other Mahagathbandhan allies to join our protest,” the party’s state Secretary Kunal told PTI. “Our student wings will also protest against him.”

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar allocated portfolios to the newly-elected members of his Cabinet on Tuesday. Nitish Kumar along with a 14-member council of ministers was sworn in by Governor Phagu Chauhan on Monday. Renu Kumari and Prasad took oath as the deputy chief ministers.

The National Democratic Alliance returned to power in Bihar with a slender majority. The coalition won 125 seats in the 243-member State Assembly. The Opposition Grand Alliance bagged 110. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by 31-year-old Tejashwi Yadav, emerged as the single-largest party with 75 seats.

Quite significantly, the JD(U) has, for the first time in Bihar, won fewer seats than the BJP, pulling in just 43 to the BJP’s 74. This is reflected in the composition of the state cabinet. The BJP bagged seven berths, while five ministers are from the JD(U). One each is from two smaller allies – the Hindustani Awam Morcha and the Vikassheel Insaan Party.

‘57% Bihar ministers face criminal charges’

Meanwhile, a report by election watchdog group Association for Democratic Reforms showed that eight of the 14, or 57%, newly sworn-in ministers in Bihar have declared criminal cases against themselves in the affidavits submitted ahead of the elections. Six ministers have declared serious criminal cases against themselves. Serious criminal cases are non-bailable offences with over five years of imprisonment.

Affidavits of two out of six ministers analysed from the JD(U), four out of six ministers analysed from the BJP, one minister from the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) and one from the Vikassheel Insaan Party show criminal cases against them, the Association for Democratic Reforms said.

The report also showed that 13 of the ministers, including Chaudhary, have declared assets worth more than Rs 1 crore. In fact, Chaudhary, with assets worth Rs 12.31 crore, is the richest among the ministers.