Manjhi, who has vowed to work for the defeat of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, is expected to add sections of scheduled castes to the social coalition BJP is seeking to engineer to overwhelm the JD(U)-RJD alliance.
Manjhi, a mahadalit, announced the tie-up with BJP after his meeting with party chief Amit Shah at his residence here on Thursday and said that the purpose for the alliance was to defeat the “unholy” alliance of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad.
Manjhi who, boosted by the sympathy for being unceremoniously sacked as CM at Nitish’s instance, has evolved into a leader of sections of SCs had tried to drive hard bargain with BJP and Lalu Prasad, his other suitor. However, Lalu’s alliance with Nitish and the fact that Manjhi is in no mood to forgive Bihar CM yet for having dumped him, smoothened matters for BJP.
The two sides are expected to take up the issue of seat-sharing after the BJP parliamentary board completes the formality of approving the pact, but there are clear indications that Manjhi will have to scale down his demand for 60 of the 243 seats for his fledgling Hindustan Awam Party which plans to contest the election on its own symbol for which it has approached the Election Commission.
BJP had debated whether to have a formal tie-up with Manjhi or have a tacit understanding where the latter would have been used as a proxy force to undermine the prospects of the candidates of rival alliance. In the event, the party decided to have an open partnership with the leadership taking the view that spoilers can be expected to be of little consequence in the intense high-stakes fight that the Bihar battle promises to be.
Ramvilas Paswan, Union minister and an important dalit leader in Bihar, is already part of the BJP-led NDA. The addition of Manjhi should ensure the support of a significant section of dalits for BJP’s bid to grab power in the caste-ridden state on its own strength.
Although a Musahar, perhaps the most disadvantaged even among SCs, Manjhi has, with some degree of success, has tried to style himself as a leader of dalits as a whole.
Besides BJP and Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, NDA in Bihar also comprises Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party.
Making the announcement after his meeting with BJP chief Shah, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan and BJP general secretary Amit Shah, Manjhi said a strong alliance is needed to defeat the ‘Janata Parivar’ in the upcoming assembly elections. “In Bihar, an unholy alliance between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad has been formed … I spoke to Amit Shah in this context. We have to work together to prevent Lalu and Nitish from coming to power.”
Manjhi said he had held rallies across the state where the “consensus” was to get “rid” of the Lalu-Nitish combine. “Yadavs feel that Lalu has betrayed them by joining hands with Nitish, who put thousands of Yadavs behind bars on petty charges. They no longer think that Lalu is their leader. Under these circumstances I felt that an alternative was needed,” he said.
The former CM said he will continue to run Hindustani Awam Morcha and it will become “a part and parcel” of NDA to “destroy” the Lalu-Nitish alliance. Manjhi said he has already applied to the Election Commission for a symbol.
Asked about seat-sharing agreement with BJP, he said, “It has been decided that we will go to whatever extent possible to help each other. We have not held any seat-sharing discussion. Our core committee will meet on June 15 and take a decision there. Our preparations are in all 243 seats.”
On whether there will be a chief ministerial candidate of the alliance, he said, “It will be better if the name of CM is announced after the election.” He noted that BJP had earlier decided on not projecting anyone as its chief ministerial candidate and it will take a call on the issue.