Janata unity is already in trouble as the old rivalry between RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Janata Dal (U) leader Nitish Kumar seems to be resurfacing with the former having qualms about putting up Mr Kumar as the alliance’s CM candidate for the Bihar polls later this year.
Mr Prasad has not indicated his choice, but his overtures to Jitan Ram Manjhi — who created difficulties for Mr Kumar by not letting go of the chief minister’s office — to join the alliance have only made matters worse. And just as it seemed the satraps did not indulge in self-aggrandisement or allow individual prejudices to come in the way of the greater cause they wished to serve, the Bihar group under the broad umbrella is caught in the toils of the same familiar, knotty problem.
What are the implications of this for the Bihar polls? The main issue is that Mr Prasad and Mr Kumar have their own turfs to defend, with the BJP threatening to chisel away at both. When Mr Kumar was chief minister, he had raised 21 of the 22 Dalit castes to ‘Mahadalit’ status, leaving out only the Dosadhs, to which Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan belongs. When he was CM, Mr Manjhi roped in the Dosadhs also as
Mahadalits, thus reinforcing his image as a Dalit messiah. But herein lies the dilemma. The BJP already has Mr Paswan as its ally. In case it is able to win over Mr Manjhi also, it will have secured its Dalit base. Here Mr Kumar, who has the development and law-and-order plank on his side, has a difficult political problem on hand. Mr Prasad has to keep his flock together and expand his support base, given the fact that he is still serving a jail term, though he is now out on bail.
If the issue is just the chief ministerial candidate, the problem will be restricted to Bihar, where more than one big actor is in the fray.
The wisest option for the Bihar group would be to resolve the chief ministerial issue amicably. The RJD should not forget that it supported Mr Kumar in the trial of strength after the Manjhi fiasco. The debacle they experienced a year ago can easily return to haunt them if they continue to work at cross purposes.