An unrelenting Jitan Ram Manjhi frustrated the BJP’s attempt to placate him on Sunday, pushing talks for an agreement on seat-sharing among the NDA allies in the Bihar assembly polls to drag on.
Though some reports said the BJP and the former Bihar chief minister had apparently clinched a seat-sharing deal, there was no official confirmation.
The 70-year-old Manjhi has refused to accept the status of “junior-most” partner in the coalition and demanded more than the 15 seats offered to his fledgling party, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM).
The BJP was ready to spare three more seats, taking Manjhi’s share to 18, but he was in no mood to scale down from his demand for at least 25 seats.
A HAM(S) leader claimed on Sunday that BJP had agreed to allot about 20 seats to it, PTI reported. The report also quoted a BJP leader as saying: "All is well and a positive outcome is expected."
But, a proposed announcement on the NDA’s seat distribution was put on hold as Manjhi dug in his heels, arguing that his political strength was much more than Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha, the other two allies.
Manjhi and his aides held a series of meetings with BJP leaders including Kumar, Yadav and Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan through the day.
BJP president Amit Shah, party sources said, cancelled his Mysore visit on Sunday to oversee the negotiations.
According to the formula proposed by the BJP, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) should contest 42 seats, while Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) should contest 25 seats, leaving the remaining 162 for the saffron party. Both the LJP and RLSP accepted the offer despite making some ambitious demands.
Given the high stakes this election, BJP leaders are not only wary of a negative impression from the delay in seat-sharing, but also do not want to lose Manjhi, a self-styled champion of the Mahadalit community that accounts for more than 10% of the state’s population.
But any change in Manjhi’s share would require tweaking the figures of the entire alliance.
BJP leaders hoped that a breakthrough would be reached on Monday despite Manjhi telling BJP chief Amit Shah that he wields more influence than Paswan and Kushwaha.
Shah even cancelled a trip to Mysore to mollify Manjhi.
Union minister Ananth Kumar and Dharmendra Pradhan, besides BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav, met Manjhi and his party leaders during the day to reach an agreement, which appears elusive at the moment.
The one-time chief minister Nitish Kumar loyalist has cosied up to the BJP after he fell out with his mentor in one of the bitterest political fights for the state’s top post early this year.
He brings to the table a chunk of backward community votes that could muddle the calculations of the RJD-JD(U)-Congress alliance.
(With agency inputs)