The Jitan Ram Manjhi versus Nitish Kumar fight has Bihar and political parties riveted which are carefully calculating how Manjhi’s new found stature as a ‘Dalit icon’ could be to their benefit.
Bihar has 243 assembly segments which make up 40 Lok Sabha seats. With 31 seats in its kitty, the NDA, comprising BJP, Lok Janskahti Party (LJP) led by Ram Vilas Paswan and the Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Loktantrik Samata Party (RLSP) had won close to 180 segments with opposition of RJD, JD(U), Congress and NCP among others, claiming the rest.
Manjhi becomes important since 40 seats in Bihar are reserved and the present tussle presents an ‘opportunity’ for all parties to be able to cash it with his newly emerged Dalit icon status.
LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan and RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha are the most vocal supporters of Manjhi now, ramming home at meeting after meetings that ‘anti-Manjhi’ stand of Nitish Kumar, was wholly anti-Dalit, and unforgivable.
Paswan sees an opportunity for self-revival after the huge success of winning six of seven seats in the Lok Sabha in a clear Modi wave that engulfed the country. In the by polls that followed Paswan could not provide the momentum even in his backyard of Vaishali.
“The pro-Dalit moves by the Manjhi government, such as giving more land to Dalit landless, providing freeship to Dalit-Mahadalit and other women till post graduation, through school, appointing safai karmcharis from among poor groups and a cabinet decision on Tuesday to give preference to Dalits in state works department contracts, have all put Manjhi head and shoulders above any leader,” said LN Sharma, president Bihar political science congress.
The BJP has indeed seen a big opportunity in backing Manjhi to team up with Paswan and mop up the Dalit votes, which had eluded it for its perception as an upper caste formation.