As Bihar Assembly election dates are announced, one may not miss Diwali symbolism as the poll results will come before the festival of lights. So, the fight begins both, within the alliances and of course, outside it. Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, an emerging Mahadalit leader – Ram Vilas Paswan would like to use “scheduled caste” instead of Nitish Kumar’s coinage Mahadalit – blows hot and cold on undisputed dalit leader for years, Paswan, an MP since 1977 and one who had become an MLA for the first time in 1969.
Manjhi’s problem is that he wants it too soon and too fast. He attacks Paswan because both leaders are occupying the same Dalit space in the BJP scheme of things to take major chunk of 18 per cent scheduled caste votes, more at the expense of Nitish than Lalu Yadav and Congress.
Paswan’s party, LJP, that won six out of seven Lok Sabha seats in 2014 polls is expecting around 50 Assembly seats to contest. It is another matter that LJP that won three seats in last Assembly polls does not have any legislator with all three moving to Nitish soon after the polls. This is where Manjhi plays mind games against Paswan. Manjhi, who has floated HAM (Secular) has 13 MLAs coming from the JD (U) camp. Manjhi’s contention is simple: the 13 MLAs are his “punji (capital)”, he wants “sood (interest)” from BJP.
Manjhi had gone to Delhi with a list of 44 seats on his demand list and there is enough indication that he can settle with 40 seats. But the elder Paswan would want more than Manjhi in any case because of his standing in Bihar and national politics and just for the reason that he has been a proven six per cent votes winner for several past elections irrespective of his company with the UPA or NDA.
Paswan does not like comparisons with Manjhi. He says he has done politics with likes of Karpoori Thakur and does not need to prove his credentials. One theory doing the round that it is BJP that is getting the two scheduled caste leaders fight to settle seats between them. BJP is suffering a problem of plenty as it has three alliance partners to accommodate. The saffron party’s “mission 170” has no clarity if it wants to contest 170 of 243 seats or whether the NDA wants to win those many seats. Paswan and Manjhi are fighting for their respective and deserved space, as they may not be meaning the sour words they are using against each other in the poll season.