By Jai Prakash Ojha:
The recent political developments in Bihar have upset all the political permutations and combinations in the state with the supporters of Nitish Kumar and Chief Minister Manjhi coming out on the streets in Patna and other towns to settle political scores. What has surprised political pundits is the resilience manifested by Manjhi and his coterie in the midst of spirited attempts made by Nitish, Sharad and the RJD supremo Lalu Prasad to compel the current CM to step down and pave way for the swearing in of Nitish, for that coveted position.
Nurturing of Dalit Constituency
Signs were ominous for the JD (U) leadership since the past few months, as Manjhi went on consolidating his hold over the Dalit constituency by his utterances on the origin of upper castes, his exhortation to Dalit youths to increase the population and go for inter caste marriages, repeated sermons to the Dalits to realize their importance as vote bank on account of their population of 22 percent in the state etc. He refused to follow the script written by his predecessor and went on with his own policy prescriptions like awarding reservation for Dalits in contracts below 50 lakhs, free education up to post graduation level for the Dalits and girls, 5 decimal land for the landless though the previous government had decided on 3 decimals, removing the pro Nitish bureaucrats from important positions and calling all the Dalit bureaucrats for a meeting. His aggressive pro Dalit pitch was threatening to undo all the painstaking work that Nitish had done to stitch together his rainbow alliance of different social groups.
Inching towards BJP
By refusing to relinquish his post and questioning the authority of the JD (U) President Sharad Yadav to convene the meeting of party legislators, he had not left any room for reconciliation. His frequent showering of encomiums on Modi and the BJP top brass also began to lend credence to the JD (U) charges that Manjhi was inching towards the saffron camp. BJP, on its part, knew that Manjhi could be a vital cog in its design to weaken the RJD-JDU-Congress alliance since he is a Mahadalit, a community that constitutes 15-16 percent of the state population. Nitish’s core vote bank of around 5 percent (Kurmi-Koeri) will be insignificant once Mahadalits come out of his camp, and lets not forget that the upper castes (15 percent) have already deserted the JDU in the aftermath of its acrimonious split with BJP.
It suits BJP to prevent the fallout of the merger plans of JDU and RJD, that in all probability will technically bring together all the forces of Mandal arithmetic—OBCs, Dalits and Muslims. Manjhi’s meeting with the PM and state BJP leaders in New Delhi could be a pointer to the tide of events to unfold in the caste cauldron of Bihar politics. The deliberate silence maintained by BJP and the inaction by the Governor till now speaks volumes of the likely BJP strategy to not let Nitish acquire power and work towards consolidation of the grand alliance. BJP is also aware of the unreliability of Manjhi as a trustworthy partner and hence has kept its card close to its chest on whether to support Manjhi on the floor of the House or to let the government fall. Elections under President Rule will, no doubt, serve BJP interests well but then, BJP wants Mahadalits in its ploy to wrest power in the state. The upper castes are with the party, a good percentage of extremely backward caste votes will accrue to it and it will leave no stone unturned to garner as much Dalit votes as it can. Ram Vilas Paswan is with NDA and hence, poaching of Manjhi will lead to Nitish losing his assiduously cultivated constituency of Mahadalits, leaving the field open for BJP in mobilizing Dalit support. The battle for supremacy in Bihar is truly exciting and intriguing.
The Patna High Court verdict declaring the election of Nitish as the leader of JDU as illegal, and devoid of procedures, while questioning the decision of the speaker of Bihar Assembly to recognize Nitish as the leader without waiting for the decision of the Governor, is a shot in the arm for the Manjhi camp. However, the claims and counter claims game continues from both the camps. Nitish is desperate for floor voting as early as possible to minimize chances of horse trading and is peeved at the Governor’s decision to fix 20th February as floor test day and that too, by secret vote for which Manjhi was clamouring.
The stunning AAP victory in Delhi and the complete decimation of BJP may raise the hopes of the Janata Alliance but then, Bihar and Delhi are different. Delhi is a city-state entity with high urbanisation with the society divided more on class lines than caste. It would be wrong to conclude that the Modi magic is on the wane based on just a single state result. Though JDU and RJD are gloating over the achievement of Kejriwal in stopping the BJP juggernaut, it would be wrong to assume that AAP may come close towards the Pariwar considering AAP’s penchant for anti establishment and identity free politics.