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Bihar polls: In Jitan Ram Manjhi’s constituency, a deep divide

The division reflects the new caste combination that emerged after Manjhi’s party aligned with the BJP.

bihar, bihar polls, bihar elections, jitan ram manjhi, Venkatesh Sharma, manjhi venkatesh, jdu, HAM, HAM election symbol, bihar news, election news Jitan Ram Manjhi in Imamganj during a rally. (Source: PTI)

A crowd has formed around 45-year-old Venkatesh Sharma, a supporter of Jitan Ram Manjhi. He says he voted for him in Friday’s polls, and believes Manjhi’s “telephone” — his party HAM’s election symbol — will outshine the Grand Alliance’s “lightless lantern”. Everyone agrees, except two frail men. “Never. This time, the RJD has ensured Manjhi’s defeat,” says one of them, Sunil Kumar.

An argument ensues and the two dissenters leave. This is Ner village, located next to Makhdumpur, the constituency from where Manjhi contested. It looks like a simple argument till you learn the castes of the men. Sunil and his supporter are from the Ravidas community, while the others are Bhumihars and Musahars. The division reflects the new caste combination that emerged after Manjhi’s party aligned with the BJP.

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To counter Manjhi, the Grand Alliance fielded RJD’s Subedar Das, who belongs to the prominent Ravidas community. For, a loss for Manjhi in his home constituency would be a big triumph for both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad.

While the Bhumihars — the second biggest caste group in Makhdumpur — say they voted for Manjhi because of “Modi”, the Musahars say they did so because he served as chief minister, a rare feat for the community of landless labourers at the lowest end of the social order. “Why wouldn’t we vote for the most famous among us,” says Mohan Manjhi.

A mile ahead, at Makhdumpur market, the story is starkly different. While the market is shut because of polling, men are sitting in groups. “There is no way Manjhi will win,” says Surinder Prasad Yadav, who introduces himself as the Nagar Adhyaksh of the RJD. “The largest caste in the constituency is Yadav and we are all with Lalu.”

Soon, a crowd gathers — most of them Yadavs or Muslims. “It is the season of Blackberry, who needs Manjhi’s telephone? There are no landlines in Makhdumpur,” says Dinesh Kumar Yadav. Mohammad Nihal Alam of Pakahi village says there was support among Muslims for Manjhi till he joined the BJP, which is “banning all our things”.

Ali Ahmad says “the equation has changed” since 2010, when Manjhi won from Makhdumpur. “At the time, Manjhi was with Nitish and the Muslim vote was divided between JD(U) and Lalu. Plus the Kurmi vote was with him,” he says. Another man in the crowd, Ram Parvesh Yadav, says the Yadav, Muslim, Ravidas and Kurmi communities, as well as a section of the Mahadalits, back the RJ(D) candidate.

In Palia Village, Manjhi supporters reappear. “Everybody votes on the basis of caste, why not us,” says Savinder Manjhi. Nand Kishore Manjhi says the community supports Manjhi because Nitish “grabbed” the “kursi (chair)” from him.

Dina Nath Manjhi explains another dynamic at play. “If Manjhi wasn’t with the BJP, it would have been difficult for us because we live next to a big Bhumihar village. But this time, we were together with the Bhumihars,” he says.