Patna: Former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM Friday reignited its rivalry with the Lok Janshakti Party, warning it will field candidates against LJP if Ram Vilas Paswan’s party puts up nominees to take on the JD(U) in the Bihar assembly polls, reflecting the unease in the state’s ruling alliance.
The LJP, founded by Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, is a BJP ally but not part of the JD(U)-BJP coalition government in the state where assembly elections are due in October-November.
The party, now helmed by Paswan’s MP son Chirag, has often been critical of the Nitish Kumar government over a variety of issues ranging from alleged corruption in the public distribution system, to road construction and violation of prohibition laws. There have been media reports that the LJP was unhappy over the return of the Hindustani Awam Morcha (secular) into the NDA fold and contempleting fielding candidates against JD(U) nominees.
Dalits, who roughly constitute around 16 per cent of the state’s voters, form the bedrock of support of both the LJP and HAM(S), and some amount of jostling between the two parties for greater share in the electoral pie appeared inevitable after Manjhi’s return.
“It doesn’t matter who is happy or unhappy (over HAM’s return). We have come here to strengthen the hands of Nitish Kumar and not for tickets to contest elections. We will be forced to open our mouth if Chirag Paswan continues to issue threats like he will put up candidates against JD(U) nominees. If that happens, we too will field our candidates against LJP,” HAM spokesperson Danish Rizwan said.
The LJP’s state parliamentary board is meeting on September 7 and there are indications that it would discuss the issue of ‘friendly contests’ with the JD(U).
Chirag Paswan has often voiced unhappiness over the functioning of the Nitish Kumar government and said his alliance is with the BJP.
When there were murmurs in the BJP with a section wanting someone from the party to replace Kumar as the next chief ministerial face, before the then saffron party chief Amit Shah quietened them with his statement declaring the NDA will go to the hustings under the JD(U) leader, Chirag Paswan had said it will go by the BJP’s decision.
It is learnt that Kumar and Chirag Paswan have not spoken to each other in a long time. Not withstanding the LJP president’s strained relations with the JD(U) and HAM, the BJP is happy about Manjhi’s return to the NDA.
“It is now clear that in the assembly elections there will be only two habitually corrupt and traditionally dynastic parties against the NDA. This will help people decide who will pursue development with justice and whose intention will be to get land parcels registered in their name in return for favours,” Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi tweeted in Hindi.
He was referring to alleged transfer of huge tracts of land to the family of RJD president Lalu Prasad in return for favours when he was the railway minister.
Lalu’s son and leader of the opposition in the state assembly Tejashwi Yadav is also an accused in the case being probed by the CBI.
“After Jitan Ram Manjhi left them, the opposition has become just Political Corruption Forum (PCF) of the RJD-Congress. It’s now a hoax to call it a grand alliance,” Modi said in a series of tweets in hindi.
JD(U) leader and Information and Public Relations Minister Neeraj Kumar also welcomed Manjhi to the NDA fold,saying it was in the state’s interest and result in the RJD-led alliance getting wiped out in the assembly polls. The RJD had drawn a blank in the last Lok Sabha elections.
With dalits constituting a significant chunk of the electorate, Manjhi has often clashed with Paswan’s party. The two had bickered even before the 2014 general elections for a larger share of tickets. Manjhi was then a part of the NDA and the JD(U) a constituent of the grand alliance.
HAM(S) has support among ‘Mushar’ voters. They are a ‘Mahadalit’ community, which has a substantial population in the state where Paswans’ are numerically the most influential among a plathora of dalit castes.
The LJP believes Kumar wooed back Manjhi to counterbalance Paswan’s party.
The BJP has so far kept itself away from the feud, and insisted the alliance will contest the polls as a cohesive unit.
Kumar had facilitated the rise of Manjhi to the chief ministerial chair in 2014 after the JD(U)’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls, taking responsibility for the defeat. Later, when Kumar wanted his chair back, Manjhi dug in his heels and refused to quit. After initial reluctance, he was forced to step down.
He later formed HAM and became part of the NDA, while Nitish Kumar joined hands with the RJD and the Congress to float a grand alliance. When Kumar returned to the NDA in 2017, Manjhi walked over to the grand alliance.