Why Mahadalits and Manjhi Have Brought Gaya to Top of Nitish Kumar’s Priority List
Dilip Manjhi, a supporter of Jeetan Ram Manjhi, points out that the Mahadalit leader’s popularity is the reason Nitish Kumar is camping in Gaya and addressing two to three meetings a day.
File photo of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
Politics is a game of one upmanship. Friends and foes change as per convenience. This exactly defines the relationship between Nitish Kumar and Jeetan Ram Manjhi.
Once Manjhi was so dear and trustworthy to Kumar that he nominated him as his political successor after the 2014 Lok Sabha election debacle. But this relationship could not last for more than nine months. Manjhi deserted the party and cited disrespect at the hands of the Bihar CM.
In 2019, Manjhi switched camps and joined the mahagathbandhan. He poses a serious challenge to JD(U) over the vote share of Mahadalits, specially Musahar community.
JD(U), now a part of NDA, wants to reassert its grip over the community like it had since the formation of Mahadalit commission in 2007. The community forms nearly six per cent of the electorate, and Manjhi has emerged as a popular leader among them.
Dilip Manjhi, a supporter of Jeetan Ram Manjhi, points out that the Mahadalit leader’s popularity is the reason Kumar is camping in Gaya and addressing two to three meetings a day.
Another supporter Rajesh Kumar says, “Nitish Kumar intends to defeat Jeetan Ram Manjhi but the CM will not be successful as people are with Jeetan”.
The supporters are of the opinion that Manjhi commands considerable clout among his community across the state and his win will usher in a new era for them.
RJD, the main opposition party, gave Manjhi two Lok Sabha seats to consolidate the Mahadalit votes in favour of the grand alliance.
Ajay Singh, the youth general secretary of RJD, said Nitish Kumar has done nothing for Mahadalit community.
“He only coined the term Mahadalit but snatched the right to sell liquor from Paasi community. This feeling of being cheated is the cause for discontentment. Similarly, the Musahar and other communities feel disrespect due to Jeetan being outcast”.
He further claims that a major chunk of 1.7 lakh people arrested under the liquor ban were from the Mahadalit community.
Why Gaya has become a prestigious seat for Manjhi and Nitish Kumar:
Nitish Kumar’s 2007 decision to recognise a separate ‘Mahadalit’ community by categorizing 18 castes of Dalits out of 22, and later including three more sub-castes, had made him an icon among the Mahadalits. Only the Paswan community, with an approximately 5% electoral population, was left out due to reasons only known to the JD(U) government.
One of the reason of Nitish Kumar’s convincing victory in Lok Sabha election in 2009 as well as Vidhan Sabha in 2010 was the division between “haves” and “have nots” of the Dalit community .
Mahadalit Vikas commission was formed under which dozens of special schemes like free land to landless and 16% quota in government contracts up to Rs 15 lakh were introduced.
But in 2018, the Paswan community, too, got included in Mahadalits as Nitish realigned with NDA and Ram Vilas Paswan, another important ally, wielded his influence.
However, formation of the Hindustani Awam Morcha by Jeetan Ram Manjhi dented the vote share of JD(U) over Mahadalit.
Nitish Kumar wants to reassert his grip over Mahadalit again to prepare a firm ground in forth coming Vidhan Sabha election of Bihar scheduled for 2020.
The total population of Mahadalit is estimated to be 15 per cent and is significant to keep Nitish Kumar in power for longer period.
Manjhi, when asked about Kumar’s disproportionate number of visits to Gaya, told News18, “I have nothing personal against Nitish Kumar. He is moving from village after village to ensure my defeat but he will not succeed.”
Manjhi further said, “The Prime Minister kicked off his Bihar campaign from Gaya in consultation with Nitish Kumar and fear of imminent defeat has made Gaya a hot cake.”
He labelled Nitish Kumar as “Magadh Virodhi (Magadh enemy)” for shifting the planned central university in Gaya to Motihari.
Sanjay Singh, a spokesman of JD(U) denied that Kumar was worried about the party’s poll prospects in Gaya. “We can’t take our political rivals lightly and Nitish Kumar being the tallest leader of our party is visiting nook and corner for the upcoming election,” he said.
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