Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Jitan Ram Manjhi, whom Nitish had installed in his chair briefly before the two fell out, appear to be headed for a patch-up. Both of them guests at an iftaar party hosted by RJD chief Lalu Prasad recently, and were seen warming up to each other for the first time after the bitterly contested 2015 assembly elections.
So far, Nitish Kumar had been seen as having shut the doors on any wish Manjhi may have had of returning. Now, sources said, Nitish has been giving a rethink to the possibility of weaning Manjhi away from NDA to jolt his rivals symbolically. “It is true that the CM has had a change of heart and shed his bitterness for Manjhi,” said a JD(U) source, confirming that the top leadership is in talks with Manjhi. “We keep exploring options in politics. Manjhi heaping praise on Nitish recently also suggests that Manjhi is thinking beyond the BJP.”
Manjhi has said recently that whatever he is today is because of Nitish Kumar.
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The JD(U) source, for his part, said, “We will do whatever we can to trouble the BJP before the UP assembly elections. We are going to contest the UP elections and are looking to broadbase our party and alliance to pose a challenge to the BJP. Manjhi is an important Dalit face from Bihar and can have a larger role to play in politics if he joins us.”
The JD(U) also wants to out-think Lalu Prasad, who too has been in talks with Manjhi. Ironically, it was Lalu whose iftaar party provided the platform for Nitish and Manjhi to get together in public.
Manjhi, however, has been playing his cards close to his chest. Sources said Manjhi expects the BJP to offer him at least the post of a governor if it wants to keep him in the NDA fold. “One must go by statistics — Manjhi leads a one-MLA party,” said HAM (S) spokesperson Danish Rizwan. “We did not do well in the last assembly polls because the NDA did not do well. But Manjhi is still a major Dalit face after Ram Vilas Paswan.”
Rizwan said he has no knowledge what Manjhi’s next political move will be. “We remain very much part of the NDA. We cannot stop people from speculating,” Rizwan said.
Another HAM(S) leader said Nitish and Lalu Prasad did not have much to offer the former CM while BJP can still offer him something suiting his “stature”. “It could be politics of bargaining from Manjhi and politics of posturing by Nitish,” the leader said.
Meanwhile, rebellion within another NDA constituent, RLSP, has also given the grand alliance an opportunity to take potshots at the NDA. RLSP chief and Union minister Upendra Kushwaha recently dissolved the state unit of the party, dismissing MP Arun Kumar as the president.
Manjhi suffered hugely after splitting from the JD(U) and joining the NDA. In an election swept by Nitish and Lalu’s grand alliance, Manjhi’s new party, HAM(S), won only one seat. This was Imamganj, won by Manjhi himself, though he lost Makhdumpur, which he had represented.