Less than a fortnight after he quit the RJD-led Opposition Grand Alliance in Bihar, former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) president Jitan Ram Manjhi on Wednesday announced that his party will be part of the NDA as an alliance partner of the JD(U) for the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha elections.
He clarified that HAM(S) will not merge with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party.
According to Manjhi, although he did not want to fight the elections, party workers and alliance leaders want him to contest.
Manjhi, who represents Imamganj in Gaya in the outgoing Assembly, had quit NDA in 2018 and contested 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Gaya constituency as a Grand Alliance constituent and lost to JD(U)’s Vijay Manjhi. His party had unsuccessfully contested two other Lok Sabha seats — Aurangabad and Nalanda.
Manjhi quit the Grand Alliance on August 20 and had kept all sides guessing on his next move in the interim.
Indications about his inclinations emerged when he met Nitish Kumar last week. Sources said Manjhi had demanded 10 seats for his party – HAM(S) – for the coming elections but could settle for a seat or two fewer. Officially, however, he maintained that seat-sharing was not a precondition for HAM(S) joining the NDA.
As an explanation for his move, Manjhi said: “I had given the RJD ample time to set up a coordination committee to discuss seat-sharing and the alliance’s policies and strategies. I had also given the Congress enough time to do so. I have finally decided to be an ally of JD(U) and be part of the NDA.” He also said, “There has been speculation about my party merging with the JD(U). That is incorrect. We will work as an alliance partner of JD(U).”
Asked whether he was demanding from RJD an MLC seat for his second son, Manjhi launched a tirade against the Leader of Opposition in Assembly: “Tejashwi Yadav, who has barely studied, should not be talking about my son, who holds a PhD.”
HAM(S) spokesperson Danish Rizwan praised the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM Nitish Kumar and said, “The way the PM is dealing with the Covid and economic crises is exemplary. Nitish Kumar has also dealt effectively with the pandemic…. We left the Grand Alliance since it was bereft of any vision.”
Manjhi’s return to NDA would mean revisiting political calculations. Even though his influence is limited to certain regions, especially central Bihar, his return is likely to boost NDA’s hold among Dalit voters. Manjhi comes from the Mushahar caste, which forms about 2.5 per cent of Bihar’s population.
In 2015 state polls, Manjhi contested from Makdumpur and Imamganj constituencies and lost from his sitting seat, Makdumpur. But he wrested Imamganj from former Assembly speaker and JD(U) leader Uday Narayan Choudhary, who is now with RJD.
HAM(S), then an NDA constituent, had won only one of 23 seats it contested in 2015. He slowly lost favour with BJP, as the latter felt he was unable to transfer votes of his core constituency – Dalits – to the saffron party’s candidates elsewhere.
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