Five years after being plucked from virtual obscurity to occupy the Chief Minister’s chair, Jitan Ram Manjhi is battling for his political future in Gaya, which votes on April 11. A defeat from here would prove his Waterloo.
Addressing a rally in Belaganj, one of the six Assembly segments under the Lok Sabha seat, on behalf of his candidate Vijay Manjhi, JD(U) chief and Bihar CM Nitish Kumar played up his role in making Jitan Manjhi the CM and the latter’s “betrayal” after that.
Manjhi, who was ST/ST welfare minister, was a surprise choice for CM in May 2014. Since Nitish Kumar had cultivated a Mahadalit (scheduled caste) constituency, making Manjhi CM suited his social engineering plans. Jitan Ram Manjhi, however, nursed bigger political ambitions after becoming CM and challenged his mentor by issuing several casteist statements and finally ended up losing his job. He formed Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) with some disgruntled leaders and went to NDA before 2015 Assembly polls. His party could win only one seat out of the 23 that it contested. Manjhi joined the Grand Alliance and is contesting three Lok Sabha seats.
The JD(U) candidate is a former MLA and son of JD(U) candidate Bhagwati Devi. With Gaya, a BJP stronghold, the JD(U) is banking on its support. The BJP dropped its sitting MP Hari Manjhi to give the Gaya seat to the JD(U).
Click to read more election news
The caste tussle would normally give Jitan Manjhi an edge, apart from the added attraction of him being a former CM compared to the novice Vijay. Gaya has about 3.5 lakh Manjhi votes, 2.5 lakh Yadav and 1.5 lakh Muslim votes, followed by EBCs and other Scheduled Castes. The JD(U), however, believes equations have changed since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally for Vijay on March 2. “The BJP cadre has been galvanised and Gaya battle would go down to the wire,” a local JD(U) worker said.
Vijay Manjhi would also attract some RJD votes, having been in the RJD earlier. “A lot will depend on if the entire RJD vote base of Yadavs and Muslims goes in Jitan Manjhi’s favour. We see pro-NDA sentiments in urban areas while the votes look sharply divided into rural areas,” said Munna Kumar, in Belaganj.
Apart from a test of his political standing, the election would also determine the success of Jitan Manjhi’s attempts to project himself as a Dalit leader. He says there are 22 per cent scheduled caste, not 16 as shown in government records. He also claims of support of Dalits across Bihar.