Former Bihar Chief Minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi on Thursday claimed to have received an assurance from Rahul Gandhi that his concerns about need for better "coordination" in the Grand Alliance will be squarely addressed.
The veteran leader also said that Gandhi's assurance was the reason why he has not jumped the ship despite repeated rebuffs from the RJD, which helms the five-party coalition.
Manjhi, the founding president of the HAM, has been demanding establishment of a "coordination committee" of representatives of all coalition partners, drawing ridicule from the RJD which said that the former CM was venting his frustration over Tejashwi Yadav, four decades his junior, occupying the centre stage.
"I am aware that many people must be wondering what kind of a man Jitan Ram Manjhi is that he keeps setting deadlines for the formation of a coordination committee, despite nobody taking note of his ultimatums.
"I strongly believe that if we put up a strong fight in Bihar against the NDA, it will be in the interests of the state. The RJD's stance is that of 'duragraha' (obstinacy). Still, I would not regret if good sense prevails on them in time," the HAM president told reporters here.
Manjhi, however, made it clear that he has had no discussions in the matter with the RJD, the party founded and headed by Lalu Prasad, at whose beckoning he had quit the NDA and joined the Grand Alliance and who had also played an instrumental role in getting the HAM president's son a berth in the legislative council, despite the fledgling party having a negligible presence in the Assembly.
"I have been in touch with the Congress. I have spoken to Rahul Gandhi and he has asked me to wait for some time. I understand the AICC in-charge for Bihar Shaktisinh Gohil has been entrusted with setting things right in the state," said the HAM chief.
Speculations have been rife that he was in touch with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who heads the JD(U), seeking a return to the NDA.
Manjhi also said that his demand for a coordination committee was being misconstrued as a tactic for ensuring a greater share of seats for the HAM and remarked "we are in a very good position and poised to perform well in the polls. But right now we are not thinking in terms of whether we are going to contest 50 seats or just five".
In 2015, when Manjhi floated his party just ahead of the state polls and fought as an NDA ally, the HAM performed dismally with only its founder managing to win one seat, having contested two out of 243 Assembly seats.
Manjhi, who had recently said that the HAM, too, was in favour of timely assembly polls - due in a few months - appeared to have changed the tack when he expressed apprehensions that COVID-19 cases may spike further by November.
He was also in agreement with the Congress-RJD combine which has demanded that if polls were held on time, "conventional" modes of campaign - rallies and door-to-door meetings - must be allowed since digital electioneering robbed parties with less resources of a level playing field.
"The WHO has said that by February-March next year, India may start witnessing lakhs of fresh cases every day, up from more than 40,000 per day at present. So, despite measures like the current lockdown in Bihar, we may be heading for worse times. To hold polls in such times is a very tough task. It is to be seen whether the EC bites the bullet," Manjhi added.