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Manjhi Makes His Move, Is Paswan Next? Bihar Deck Gets Shuffled as Dalit Politics Takes Centre Stage

Jitan Ram Manjhi exited the opposition Grand Alliance and may veer towards the NDA-JD(U) alliance again.

Jitan Ram Manjhi exited the opposition Grand Alliance and may veer towards the NDA-JD(U) alliance again.

Analysts expect many old foes turning friends and vice versa for the NDA and Grand Alliance ahead of the assembly elections due in October-November.

With less than three months to go for the Bihar assembly elections, there have been major disruptions in the state's Dalit and Mahadalit politics.

Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) founder and former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi exited the opposition Grand Alliance on Thursday. The development comes as a major setback to the coalition's bid to defeat the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) in the state assembly elections due in October-November.

"HAM will no longer be a constituent of the Grand Alliance. The party has decided to leave the Mahagathbandhan," party spokesman Danish Rizwan said. Though the party did not declare which coalition it will align with, close watchers of the evolving political scene in Bihar said Manjhi could veer towards the JD(U)-led NDA once again.

Earlier in the week, Bihar industries minister Shyam Rajak resigned from the JD(U) over differences with the party leadership and joined the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

Rajak is an MLA from the reserved Phulwari Sharif seat and is considered a strong Dalit face. Political experts say that he also has strong backing from a sizeable Muslim population in his constituency. After Rajak announced his decision to quit, he was expelled from the JD(U) and sacked from the ministry. Before joining the JD(U) in 2009 he was with the-then Lalu Prasad Yadav-led RJD.

According to experts, Manjhi could compensate for the loss of Rajak.

With the exit of HAM, the opposition Grand Alliance now comprises the RJD, Congress, former union minister Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), and ex-Bollywood set designer Mukesh Sahni's Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP).

Meanwhile, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Chirag Paswan has been taking potshots at the Bihar government and chief minister Nitish Kumar over governance and management of the migrant crisis and Covid-19 pandemic. The Paswans has been upset over the JD(U)’s reluctance in accommodating LJP in the 12 nominations to the Bihar legislative council from the governor’s quota even as the BJP wanted to give it one seat.

The JD(U) has maintained it does not have an alliance with the LJP in the state and has become friendlier with former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi as it seeks to have a Dalit leader by its side to offset possible exit of Ram Vilas and Chirag Paswan’s party from the ruling NDA.

The 2011 Census of India indicated that Scheduled Castes constituted 15 per cent of Bihar's 10.4 crore population. The Mahadalits constitute nearly 16 per cent of the state’s population and 38 seats are reserved for them in the 243-member assembly.

Political observers say Mahadalit votes will be an added advantage for the RJD, which has the core traditional votes of the Muslims and Yadavs, constituting around 30 per cent of the total votes.

Out of the 38 reserved seats for Scheduled Castes, RJD had bagged 15, JD(U) 10 and Congress got five seats in the 2015 assembly polls. The JD(U), RJD and Congress had fought the assembly elections together. While the BJP had five seats in its kitty, four went to others. Of the 38 reserved seats, 13 were won by candidates belonging to the Ravidas community and 11 seats by Paswans.