Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expanded his Cabinet on Tuesday with the induction of 17 new ministers, nearly three months after his Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party together won the closely fought Assembly elections in the state. Member of Legislative Council and former Union minister Shahnawaz Hussain, who was elected to the Bihar Legislative Council last month, was the first one to be sworn in, reported PTI.

Governor Phagu Chouhan administered the oath of office to nine ministers from the BJP and eight from the JD(U), at his residence, the Raj Bhawan in Patna, reported the Hindustan Times.

After the expansion, the state Cabinet now has 34 ministers, according to PTI. The state Cabinet can have up to 36 ministers, including the chief minister. The expansion had been pending since last year’s Assembly polls in the state as Kumar disagreed with the BJP on the larger ally’s representation in the Cabinet, according to NDTV.

Others who were sworn in on Tuesday included JD(U) leaders Sanjay Kumar Jha, Shravan Kumar, Lesi Singh and Madan Sahni, and Pramod Kumar of the BJP. All of them had held ministerial positions in the previous government. However, leaders like Prem Kumar and Nand Kishore Yadav, who were part of all previous NDA governments in Bihar, could not find a spot in the Cabinet, according to the Hindustan Times. Former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi has also been sent to the Rajya Sabha.

Other BJP leaders who took oath were Janak Ram, Narayan Prasad, Nitin Nabin, Subhash Singh, Samrat Chaudhary, Neeraj Kumar Singh “Bablu” and Alok Ranjan Jha. The JD(U) chose to prefer experienced hands although there were a handful of debutants, including Zama Khan who got elected on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket but joined the party recently, and Independent MLA Sumit Singh who had pledged support to the chief minister.

The BJP now has 20 members in the Cabinet and the JD(U) 12, according to PTI. One member each was inducted from Hindustani Awam Morcha and Vikassheel Insaan Party when the Cabinet was formed in November, taking to total strength to 34.

However, even with the BJP’s numerical advantage both in the Assembly and the government, the JD(U) has retained all important departments such as Home, Personnel, Education, Rural Development, Rural Works, Water Resources.

“Talent has been given preference and social and regional balance have been kept in mind,” Bihar BJP President Sanjay Jaiswal told the Hindustan Times on the Cabinet expansion.

The 2020 Bihar state elections turned out to be more closely fought than expected. The two main contending alliances, the National Democratic Alliance and the Mahagatbandhan, ended up with identical vote share (37.2%) but with a different number of seats – 125 against 110 in the 243-member Assembly.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal emerged as the party with the largest number of seats but lost the election. Both the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which was part of the Mahagatbandhan, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, a member of the National Democratic Alliance, were dragged down by their coalition partner.

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