Jitan Ram Manjhi has persuaded the BJP to part with more seats than the senior partner had brought to the negotiation table.
After multiple meetings, BJP chief Amit Shah announced how his party and its three regional allies will divide seats in Bihar: The BJP will contest 160 of the 243 seats, Mr Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party will contest 40, Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party will contest 23 seats and Jitan Ram Manhji’s newly minted Hindustani Awaam Morcha (Secular) also called HAM, will contest 20.
Mr Shah said a few people from Mr Manjhi’s party will also contest as BJP candidates, rejecting reports of squabbles over seats. “There is no tug of war in the NDA over seat sharing,” Mr Shah said as he announced after a fairly aggressive tussle over the weekend.
Sources say Mr Paswan, who had expected “40-plus” seats, is unhappy.
Jitan Ram Manjhi, who briefly served as Bihar chief minister a few months ago as a member of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United, was adamant that his party must be given as many seats to contest as Mr Paswan’s party. He argued that he has greater influence among the deprived Dalits and Mahadalits, a sizeable chunk of voters in Bihar, where caste and community have played a major role in deciding elections.
The BJP had offered 15 seats to Mr Manjhi. He wanted 40.
On who is a bigger leader between him and Mr Paswan, Mr Manjhi said today: “It is for the people to decide.”
Mr Shah was flanked at his press conference today by a smiling Mr Manjhi and Mr Paswan.
The BJP has rationed seats among its allies in a way that it can contest enough to have a chance at winning a majority, at 122 seats, on its own.
It takes on an alliance led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is seeking a third term. Mr Shah said today that the BJP’s coalition will decide who will be chief minister only after the elections, which will be held in five phases beginning next month.