Speculation went wild with the breaking news that beleaguered Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi would be meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi Sunday evening after attending the meeting of NEETI AYOG in New Delhi. The 24×7 media channels ran their usual discussions and debates involving ‘self-styled’ political analysts and commentators and news papers toed their lines. Most very ‘assuredly’ projecting the possibility of Manjhi not reconciling with his mentor and moving closer to the ‘BJP’.
The JD-U President called a meeting of party legislators on Saturday to discuss and iron out the crisis in Bihar-the only state where his so-called ‘national’ party holds some ground. But Manjhi saw in it violation of his authority as Chief Minister who according to him as the sole right of convening such a meeting of the legislative party. Party General Secretary K C Tyagi too supported Yadav thus endorsing Manjhi’s assertion of ‘upper caste conspiracy against a ‘mahadalit’ to oust him from power.
In fact, when Nitish Kumar anointed Manjhi to the throne he had to vacate the post of Chief Minister following the JD-U debacle in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, little did he imagined to get surprised by Manjhi. It was Nitish who was instrumental in break up with the BJP on the eve of Lok Sabha polls. The party suffered severe setback and Nitish taking the entre blame on his shoulders, relinquished the post appointing Manjhi.
Nitish was under the impression that projecting this low-profile, low key personality to the top position would allow him to control the state affairs from backdoor. Jitan Ram Manjhi was virtually unknown outside Bihar though he has been in ministries during the Congress and JD-U rule since mid-80s. He shot to fame only when he was made Chief Minister courtesy Nitish Kumar on May 20, 2014. The general impression then was he was Nitish’s puppet.
But Manjhi proved all these presumptions wrong. Soon his actions proved that he is his own man and can take decisions on his own. Some of his decisions regarding transfers of pro-Nitish bureaucrats and dealing with files proved this beyond doubt and causing much annoyance to upper caste lobby in JD-U. Constantly projecting him as ‘Mahadalit’, ‘Neech’ and ‘lowly caste’ Manjhi succeeded in garnering the goodwill and support of the neglected and oppressed sections in Bihar. At the same time he never gave up efforts to show how he was committed to carry forward the work of Nitish Kumar whom he considered as his mentor. In striking a balance Manjhi exhibited his best skill as ‘Master tactician’ much to the chagrin of his upper caste seniors in the party.
However, his statements drubbing all upper castes as invaders, and his admission that though he wanted to do much for the ‘mahadalits’ the upper caste bureaucrats would not let him do so, caused much political heat in the state. But the undeterred Manjhi asked his opponents to challenge him and prove his statement otherwise.
His exhortation to dalits and mahadalits and tribals to rise to the occasion, ‘unite and rule for ever’ evoked instant response from these communities, but at the same time risked his own political career as chief minister of Bihar. Manjhi, on the other hand continued to steamroll the bureaucrats and politicians of Nitish camp. His actions resulted in self-awareness amongst the Dalit vote bank created by Nitish Kumar.
Another factor that sent worry signals in the JD-U camp was Manjhi’s slow movement towards the BJP. Of late, his meeting with Union Minister Uma Bharti became a hot topic in the media. Bihar BJP leaders Sushil Modi or Rameshwar Chaurasia came in open support of Manjhi to the discomfort of the JD–U leaders.
It was against this background that Sharad Yadav had to convene the meeding of JDULP to elect a new chief minister, which according to former CM Jagannath Mishra, was ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘unwarranted’ as the incumbent CM was not removed by a no-confidence motion. “It is a strange situation. How could be a new leader elected without a vacancy at the top? Has the incumbent leader been removed? First, he should be removed by bringing in a no-trust motion otherwise even the governor would not take cognizance of the new elected leader”, the former Chief Minister said.
The current situation in Bihar is very fluid politically. The BJP will definitely try to push for no-entry of Nitish—the man responsible for breaking the 20-year-old alliance—in the state politics as Chief Minister. At the same time explore possibilities of cosying up Manjhi and his group to retain him as Chief Minister. The BJP has 87 seats in Bihar House and its ally LJP 3.
Whether he can still sail his boat and leave Nitish’s rocking boat in mid-stream would be clear when Manjhi meets Modi this evening after the NEETI AYOG meeting. Till then speculate.
By: Virag Pachpore