Six Paswans may spoil the party for Manjhi

Yadav’s list is a measure of the fear in Makhdumpur, that Manjhi may fall to his former comrades. “If the Yadavs, Koeris and Muslims gang up on us, we will be in trouble,” he says Yadav.

Villagers in Dharaut, part of Manjhi’s Makhdum constituency. Deepu Sebastian Edmond Villagers in Dharaut, part of Manjhi’s Makhdum constituency. Deepu Sebastian Edmond

On paper, Jitan Ram Manjhi is losing. Of course, the owner of the soiled A4-sized-sheet refuses to agree. At the BJP-HAM office in Makhdumpur town, Manoj Kumar Yadav folds the paper into his pocket discreetly and refuses to show it again.

What Manoj, a member of former chief minister and Makhdumpur candidate Manjhi’s party, has is a breakup of voters across 38 castes in the six constituencies of Jehanabad district. The column for Makhdumpur, whose 2.1 lakh registered voters will cast their ballot on October 16, has data against 28 groups, including Yadav (43,875 voters), Bhumihar (30,830), Koeri (25,285) and Muslim (14,517).

Yadav’s list is a measure of the fear in Makhdumpur, that Manjhi may fall to his former comrades. “If the Yadavs, Koeris and Muslims gang up on us, we will be in trouble,” he says Yadav.

At Dharaut village, BSP candidate Mritunjay Paswan’s SUV halts in front of Joginder Paswan’s shop. The politico walks up to Joginder, folded palms and all, and engages in small talk. After he leaves, Joginder seethes, “Vote katua hai”. For the shopkeeper, who claims to have a familial acquaintance with Ram Vilas Paswan, it is important that Manjhi, who is in alliance with Paswan’s LJP, wins. The BSP candidate, one of the six Paswan-caste candidates in the fray, is an impediment.

Dharaut has been adopted under the Sansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana by Jehanabad MP Arun Kumar, whose party the RLSP is part of the NDA alliance. Joginder admits “little has been done on the ground”, but still wants to vote for the NDA alliance. “I am only interested in the big picture,” he says.

While the BSP also poses a challenge to the RJD’s Chamar candidate Subedar Das, Manoj Yadav believes his party, HAM, stands to lose the most in the face of the six Paswan candidates: “The Chamars see their their candidate first,” he says.

He also feels that a video showing the RJD candidate allegedly accepting Rs 2 lakh bribe, and PM Narendra Modi’s condemnation of the alleged act in his speech at Jehanabad town, would have little effect on voters. “These things don’t matter now. The voters know it is some sort of trap by opponents.”

All parties agree that the Yadavs, Bhumihars, Muslims and Koeri-Kurmis are voting en masse either for the NDA or the Grand Alliance.

In the midst of all this, Ramkrit Das has changed political affiliations for the first time in 40-odd years. A Chamar, he has voted for the Left all his life. “I came over to the Mahagathbandhan after I heard what RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had to say on reservations,” says Das.

He does not mention it, but it also helps Das that the RJD candidate is of his caste. He agrees that he has availed little from reservations. “No one has obtained jobs. The daily scholarships helped my children go to school, that’s all,” he says. But he is loathe to let go of quotas. “This is the only thing that this country has given us backward people to date. You want to take it away? Take it, but give me my jal, jangal and jameen first.”