07/09/2020 9:09 AM IST

Bihar Elections: Will Manjhi’s JD(U) Alliance Signal Chirag Paswan’s Exit?

Manjhi’s return to the NDA gives Chief Minister Nitish Kumar the opportunity to sideline a troublesome and ambitious ally.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Former Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi with Bihar CM Nitish Kumar on February 22, 2015 in Patna.

NAGPUR, Maharashtra: Former Bihar chief minister and the president of Hindustan Awam Morcha (Secular) Jitan Ram Manjhi’s return to the National Democratic Alliance is likely to give the BJP-controlled front a shot in the arm ahead of state assembly elections scheduled in October-November this year.

Manjhi quit the Rashtriya Janata Dal led “Mahagathbandhan” (Grand Alliance)  last month after he claimed he was ignored by the rest of the gathbandhan. His departure came after his months of insistence on the formation of a coordination committee to decide on seat sharing and the chief ministerial face of the Mahagatbandhan was ignored.

“We are going to be an ally of the JD(U). We are not merging with the JD(U). Since the JD(U) is a partner in NDA, we also consider our party as a constituent of the NDA now,” Manjhi told reporters at a press conference last week in Patna. “We are going along with Nitish Kumar with no preconditions. It was Nitish who had made me the chief minister. There is no need to go in the past on why I was removed and all that. I was misled into Lalu Prasad’s claims.”

His former partners at the Rashtriya Janata Dal, termed Manjhi a “weather scientist” after he joined the NDA. 

“The public teaches proper lessons to such weather scientists who shift from one goalpost to others at the time of the election,” said RJD spokesperson Mritunjay Tiwari while denying the allegations of ignoring Manjhi in the grand alliance.

Yet the epithet seems to suggest that the opposition RJD feels that the weather has turned in favour of sitting Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, a suggestion not lost on the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“Jitan Ram Manjhi leaving Mahagatbandhan shows a party, which operates from jail, can not uplift backward castes and Dalits. Manjhi is most welcome in the NDA,” Bihar Deputy CM and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi tweeted.

Modi’s tweet was a reference to the fact that the RJD’s patriarch, Lal Prasad Yadav is currently serving out a conviction for a corruption case dating back to the 1990s.

The JDU was also quick to target RJD over Manjhi joining NDA.

“No one gets proper respect in RJD. Our leader Nitish Kumar gives respect to people which is why people are joining JD(U),” said JD(U) spokesperson Sanjay Singh. “The Mahagathbandhan will be fragmented into pieces soon. RJD will get fewer seats than it got in the 2010 election.”

Manjhi isn’t the first to jump ship ahead of the election. Twelve sitting Bihar legislature have already shifted to the NDA camp in the last three months.

Manjhi comes from the Mushahar community which forms about 2.5 % of the Bihar population.

“As an individual and independent, he may not be a big force but he can be a good cementing factor in terms of Dalit votes. Manjhi’s inclusion will definitely help NDA at least in central Bihar districts like Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad,” said senior Patna based journalist Santosh Singh. “This matters because, after Ram Vilas Paswan, it is Manjhi who is the most important Dalit leader in the state. He might not have pan-Bihar appeal but he is a former chief minister and JDU will play this up. It also adds up to the Mahadalit constituency created by Nitish Kumar,” 

Manjhi could be helpful in handling Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party which had been critical of the Nitish Kumar government in the past few months.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (2R), senior BJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan (2L) and his son Chirag Paswan (L) on December 23, 2018 in New Delhi.

Last week, Manjhi warned the LJP’s young scion Chirag Paswan against criticizing JD(U) — suggesting he was already slotting into his role of providing an effective counterweight.

“Chirag Paswan has been crossing the line while criticizing the chief minister of late. Now you will see the new equations. One should not take someone like Nitish Kumar for granted,” a JDU minister told HuffPost India requesting anonymity.