Bihar Chief Minister Jeetan Ram Manjhi, who has upset the JD(U) leadership with his “controversial and irresponsible” statements, may be replaced by the first week of December after Nitish Kumar finishes his Sampark Yatra. Nitish is scheduled to visit Delhi in the first week of December, when he is likely to hold talks with RJD chief Lalu Prasad and senior Congress leaders.
Sources in the JD(U) said that Nitish and JD(U) president Sharad Yadav are “almost decided on replacing Manjhi”. Nitish is reportedly open to returning as chief minister if Lalu and the Congress “are okay with the idea”. “Otherwise, the JD(U) will be forced to zero in on another leader,” said the source, adding that the party could not afford to “further dilute its development agenda”.
Other names being considered to replace Manjhi include cabinet minister Ramai Ram, Assembly Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary, state JD(U) chief B N Singh and cabinet minister Narendra Narayan Yadav. “But the JD(U) will press for Nitish,” said the source.
On Sunday, Sharad and the former CM met for what the JD(U) president called a “courtesy dinner”. Nitish said he would talk about Manjhi only after November 29, when his ongoing yatra comes to an end.
Meanwhile, Manjhi on Monday held the first regional meeting of MLAs and MLCs from the Grand Alliance. Sources said that through these meetings, Manjhi is trying to win over RJD and Congress leaders in the name of seeking their feedback on development schemes.
Talking to The Indian Express, Manjhi said that he did not know if he would continue as CM or not, but would “continue to speak the truth” and would refuse to be “dictated terms” in carrying out his duties as CM.
JD(U) sources said that a large section of the party wants Nitish to replace Manjhi. However, there are fears that Manjhi’s removal might provide the BJP with an opportunity to tap into the Mahadalit vote bank.
Sources added that a final decision cannot be taken without the consent of the RJD chief, whose party is supporting the JD(U) with its 24 MLAs. Sources said Lalu is opposed to Choudhary and the JD(U) finds Ram “no less ambitious than Manjhi”.
Sources said the party does not want to decide anything in a hurry as the BJP may “try to woo Manjhi to join the party fold” before the Assembly elections so it can “embarrass” the JD(U). A source close to Nitish said, “Nitish and Sharad still want Manjhi to continue. But he has become too ambitious and his statements have made us a laughing stock, which is why something has to be done. Things will become clear once Nitish returns to Patna after completing the first phase of the Sampark Yatra.”
On Monday, Manjhi met senior RJD leaders Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Bhola Yadav and others during the first such meeting in Darbhanga region. JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar said the party had no knowledge of any such meeting.
After the meeting, Manjhi said, “With less than a year left for the Assembly polls, such interactions will be helpful in realising our projects.”
RJD legislature party leader Siddiqui hailed the move to introduce regional meetings. “This is the way to go as public representatives’ voice cannot be ignored,” he said.