Last week, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah had a 30 minute meeting with former Bihar Chief Minister and Mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi, to decide the party’s future strategy and alliances ahead of the much –awaited Bihar Assembly elections.
After the meet, the ousted Bihar Chief Minister Manjhi announced a tie-up with NDA, to rout the “unholy” alliance of so called Janata Parivar, in Bihar.
An elated Manjhi said, “In Bihar, an unholy alliance between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad has been formed… I spoke to Amit Shah regarding the matter. We have to work together to stop Lalu and Nitish from coming to power.”
He said that he would continue to lead his outfit, ‘Hindustani Awam Morcha’ (HAM), making it a trusted ally of the NDA to “finish” the Lalu-Nitish combine.
It was already known that RJD leader Lalu Yadav was in favour of getting Manjhi’s support in the coming election, and sent several feelers, but Manjhi made it very clear that he would not be part of any alliance which had his bête noire Nitish Kumar, who inflicted him a big insult, by ousting him as the Chief Minister, only a few months back.
In this important meeting with BJP National President Shah, apart from Manjhi, there were the BJP Bihar -in -charge Bhupendra Yadav, Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and HAM core committee member and former JD(U)Minister in both Manjhi and Nitish Government, Nitish Mishra were present. The two parties decided to contest as alliance, the forthcoming Bihar Assembly election, expected to be held in September-October this year.
Earlier, Bihar BJP President Mangal Pandey had cleared the ground, by saying, “Jitan Ram Manjhi has been praising the performance of Narendra Modi government at the Centre… if a proposal comes from Manjhi’s newly floated ‘Hindustani Awam Morcha’ (HAM) party to work with the BJP in the coming State election, we would consider it.”
The senior Bihar BJP leader Sushil Modi had also remarked that, his party had already extended support to Manjhi when he had sought vote of confidence earlier, but it could not happen as the Manjhi himself had resigned before the trust vote.
BJP’s last performance in Bihar Assembly was impressive. Also it got 22 Lok Sabha seats alone, in the last Parliamentary elections in 2014.
So, BJP is expecting a spectacular performance, this time also.
The Mahadalit leader had to say that HAM was a new outfit. It would take some more time to evolve as a full-fledged political party. But people are getting attracted to it. The HAM questioned, “The RJD ruled Bihar from 1990 to 2005, and Nitish Kumar ruled from 2005 to till date. So they have to answer the people of Bihar for the pitiable condition of Bihar, which they jointly ruled for 25 years.”
Manjhi had met the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, twice in the recent past, starting speculation of their coming closer in the forthcoming Bihar election.
Despite the illusive and ill formed Janata Parivar and its speculative combined vote share, Manjhi’s presence in Bihar politics can’t be ignored anymore. Over the past few months, Manjhi has already become a forceful champion of Dalit causes in Bihar. And the Dalits constitute a sizable share, of about 22 per cent of the total population of Bihar.
The Problem With Manjhi
To be frank, Manjhi is not known as a principled politician. He can go to any extent to extend his political career. Till last year, he was an obedient follower of Nitish Kumar. But once he became Chief Minister, he knew that he was not another Rabri Devi, a dummy of Lalu Yadav, or say Panneerselvam of Tamil Nadu, just to keep the seat warm, till Jayalalithaa, gets out of her legal tangles.
Initially, the opposition parties, mostly BJP called him a dummy Chief Minister, but Manjhi’s political ambitions took him to another height. His assertiveness and role playing was not liked by Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) leadership, which was the reason, he was termed as a renegade and ultimately shown the door.
In the initial days of his Chief Ministership, Manjhi attacked BJP on many occasions, Called it a communal party. But when the trust vote was imminent and BJP stood with him, he himself, apprehending defeat on the floor of the Assembly, quit.
So, apart from this strategic alliance, BJP at this moment is not ready to put Manjhi at the forefront or offer him any big dream for the future.
Also BJP has two strong allies in Bihar, LJP of Ramvilas Paswan and RLSP of Upendra Kushwaha.
Paswan has no likable terms with Manjhi. Also before the election, when the actual seat sharing will happen, surely there going to be troubles from these three parties.
Also the expelled RJD politician Pappu Yadav, seems to be a constant supporter of Manjhi and his Chief Ministership. So if Manjhi is there can Pappu be far behind! A majority of Bihar’s BJP leadership was not in favour of allying with Pappu Yadav, due to his toughie image.
Manjhi’s main anathema is Nitish Kumar. If ultimately Lalu and Nitish do not come together( Lalu has his own agenda and reluctant to accept Nitish as his leader.), and invites Manjhi to join him, a part of BJP leadership is apprehensive that dissatisfied of the number of seats BJP will be offering him, he might think the other way too!
And till date, Manjhi has assured support base within his own caste—the Mahadalits. The Dalits and OBCs in Bihar have their own leadership choice.
In Bihar politics, the complicated caste equation is the first thing to consider, and political pragmatism too, than big slogans and so called development.
BJP And Its Problems
The popularity of Narendra Modi, which assured BJP a spectacular performance during the last year’s Lok Sabha election, is not the same in recent times. The common people who had too big expectations from Modi, are somehow feeling disillusioned. No impressive achievement from the NDA Government, as yet, seen on the ground level. Also the Assembly election in Bihar, which is always fought on local issues and aspirations, caste equations and personalities are not strongly in favour of BJP.
Though it appears that BJP is in a bit advantageous position, comparing troubled JD(U) , marginalised RJD and insignificant Congress, but in the next election, the party is too far from sweeping that State, like 2014.
Modi himself is no CM aspirant there and Nitish Kumar as the CM candidate is still an agreeable option to the Bihari voters in general. BJP has not projected any CM face, yet. Sushil Modi or C.P. Thakur is no universal choice.
The evolving experiments have started growing bigger with the so called. ‘secular alliance’ comprising of JD(U), RJD, Congress, and NCP declaring Nitish Kumar as the Chief Ministerial candidate of the alliance, coined as Janata Parivar. With all its teething problems, it’s a big challenge for BJP.
In Bihar, like Delhi, there are too many contenders for BJP’s CM’s post.
Sushil Kumar Modi, former Deputy Chief Minister, is a respectable figure but not known closer to Narendra Modi’s circle, also on several occasion he had been soft to Nitish Kumar. His caste base is also not dominating in Bihar’s context.
Another seniormost BJP leader, the former Union Minister C.P. Thakur remains an obvious choice. He is from the powerful Bhumihar community, but projecting him as the lone choice BJP won’t antagonise the OBC and the Dalit voters.
Nand Kishore Yadav, is the prominent Yadav face of BJP. But BJP can’t take risk by fielding him as CM candidate, in the background of divided Yadav votes across various party lines. And that’s not only within BJP, with its allies too. Paswan, Manjhi. Kushwaha…the list is never exhaustive.
While Kushwaha’s RLSP is looking for 40-50 seats, Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP is expecting to contest in around 80 seats. Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) wants the seats dominated by Dalit votes. The BJP has a mission of 182 seats, and for this the party wants to fight in another 200 seats. Where all these seats will come from?
According to political pundits, for BJP this could lead to serious wrangling among various allied parties, leaders, castes and personalities, when the election becomes imminent, harming the grand party’s poll prospects, as we have seen earlier in Delhi.
BJP’s Problems Vs Prospect
In 2000 election Nitish was a novice and BJP put its trust on him. The next election consolidated the NDA.
In 2000 Assembly election, by supporting Nitish Kumar, BJP hit the Jackpot by securing 67 seats in the 243-member Bihar Assembly and JD-U got just 21 seats. The Nitish Ministry lasted for 15 days but BJP won a big foothold.
During 2005 elections, BJP projected Nitish as the NDA’s CM candidate and Nitish proved a giant killer, by ending Lalu Yadav’s 15 years rule. In 2010 polls, Nitish Kumar created the history when NDA got a massive three-fourth mandate—capacitating the opposition to just 37 seats! But Nitish Kumar’s over confidence and bigger expectation ended the 17 year old NDA coalition in Bihar.
This time the scene is extremely different. The arch rival Nitish and Lalu has joined hands, alongwith Congress, being unsure of OBC and Upper Caste votes, they jointly floated a ‘secular alliance’, to tap the Muslim votes. In Bihar, they are in a sizable proportion. A strong 16 percent! Here BJP faces formidable challenge, though not otherwise, but technically.
But again Lalu Yadav can assure any more a bigger chunk of about 15 percent of the Yadav population. And BJP cant simply ignore its three traditional support base, the three big Bs—the Brahmins , Banias and Bhumihars.
The Dalits and Mahadalits, which jointly constitute about 28 percent of votes, the biggest chunk, may go in BJP’s favour , due to the presence of two Dalit leaders Paswan and Manjhi in BJP’s side.
If the party can win majority of 60 reserved seats out of 243 with its allies(BJP alone has 87 at present) , it could be a big achievement for BJP. Around 23-25 Lakh Musahars in Bihar live in abject poverty. Lesser than five percent of them are literate and mostly they make a living as low wage labourers.
They are still untouchables despite the law against untouchability and discriminated everywhere. Manjhi had succeeded in raising the hopes and aspirations of these Mahadalits. Their vote will surely count and influence the voting pattern. So, Manjhi is that seasoned Boatman for NDA, in Bihar’s tidal politics.
“Manjhi ki nao kabhi nahin dubti (Manjhi’s boat never sinks),” Jitan Ram Manhji had said, days before he was ousted as CM.
Let’s see and hope.
By Deep Basu