Bihar polls: Jitan Ram Manjhi versus Ram Vilas Paswan over who is the bigger Dalit leader

Former chief minister Manjhi turned his guns on Paswan as he claimed that the LJP leader had insulted him by telling a news channel that "he (Manjhi) was on trial in NDA".

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Two major NDA partners in Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi, are flexing their muscles over whose party represents the state’s Dalits better and deserves a higher share.

Paswan (LJP) has already called himself a national leader of Dalits and described former Bihar CM Manjhi as a “state leader”. Manjhi, who has launched a party called HAM, has responded with a series of attacks, culminating Tuesday with “Paswan is not a leader of Dalits”.

On Monday, Manjhi had accused Paswan of nepotism and promoting only members of his family in politics over the years, an allegation he repeated Tuesday. “I am saying with due respect that Paswan has been unable to raise himself and his party above his son and brothers. His entire politics revolves around them,” Manjhi said.

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“It is true Paswanji is a national leader, even an international leader, but I too have been an MLA and was CM,” he added. “But being a national leader and being acceptable among the masses are two different things and Narendra Modiji knows this.”

LJP MP Chirag Paswan, Ram Vilas’s son, said, “I have a lot of respect for Manjhi and do not know the full context in which he said all those words (against my father). But I do not have anything to say.”

Sources said it was less an ego tussle than political posturing ahead of seat sharing. Manjhi, whose breakaway group from the JD(U) has 13 MLAs, has been demanding 40 tickets from the BJP.

“We have a number of sitting MLAs to claim a fair share as an NDA partner but there are parties which do not have any sitting MLA,” Manjhi said. Paswan’s party has no MLAs. It did win three seats in 2010 but all three MLAs shifted to the JD (U) later.

The Manjhi camp’s sitting MLAs include those of Chakai and Jamui, which are part of Chirag Paswan’s parliamentary seat of Jamui. The party is unwilling to surrender these two seats. Manjhi, in fact, said there would be no compromise on any seats his party holds.

Paswan has been putting pressure on Manjhi in a different manner — by challenging the very tag of “Mahadalit leader”. Paswan, who met Governor Ram Nath Kovind Monday, presented a memorandum for the need for politicians and the government to use the expression “scheduled caste” since the Constitution has never recongised “Mahadalit”. “There has been an attempt to divide Dalits with the Mahadalit tag,” Paswan said.

Manjhi’s USP as a NDA partner has been his perceived potential to swing Mahadalit votes, who represent 13 per cent of the state’s population and are otherwise seen as a core Nitish Kumar constituency. Paswan’s own core constituency accounts for 5 to 6 per cent of the votes, mostly comprising Paswans, and he is keen to shed the tag of being “leader of only Paswans”.