Nitish Kumar paraded MLAs of the Janata Dal (United), RJD, Congress and the Left before President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi on Wednesday as evidence of his majority in the Bihar assembly.
Accompanied by Rashtriya Janata Dal chief and rival-turned-ally Lalu Prasad and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, Kumar also expressed fear of horse-trading and called for an immediate trust vote in the state assembly.
The visit came hours after the Patna high court delivered Kumar a blow by staying his recognition as JD(U) legislature party chief replacing Manjhi.
While the JD(U) has “expelled” Manjhi – whom Kumar had himself elevated to the top post months back to woo Mahadalit votes -- the latter insists he will prove his majority on the floor of the assembly.
“We have a majority. There is likely to be horse-trading. A floor test should be done immediately, without delaying it further,” Kumar said after meeting the President. Prasad supported him, saying a floor test be done immediately.
With this, the political impasse in Bihar is getting murkier by the day. At stake is Nitish Kumar’s attempt to claw back to power in the state heading a “secular” umbrella coalition with a solid OBC and Muslim base.
The BJP however is waiting and watching, expecting a rich harvest of Dalit votes to bolster its core base of upper caste voters. It however does not want to be seen as “breaking” Kumar’s party, making him claim martyrdom.
“It is an internal matter of the JD (U). But why is Nitish Kumar in such a hurry? Does he have no faith in the governor and his own MLAs?” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain told HT. “We will take a call on our position during the floor test when we come to it.”
The JD (U) has 111 MLAs – 97 of whom are believed to be with Kumar – the BJP has 87 and the RJD 24 in the assembly that is now reduced to 233 members after 10 vacancies. BJP leaders however privately claim more MLAs are deserting Kumar.
The impasse is likely to end in the state splitting between an OBC-Muslim coalition on one side and one of upper castes and Dalits on the other.
Bihar goes to polls later this year, and if the BJP can beat the Nitish-Lalu alliance, it will win a perception battle dented by a shocking defeat in Delhi on the back of victories in the Lok Sabha and states like Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
A loss in Bihar will, however, lead to a heightened perception that the “Modi wave” has ebbed.
While Dusadh leader Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party is already a BJP ally, the saffron party now senses that Mahadalits – those at the bottom of the hierarchy – may shift to it en bloc. Dalits in all account for 16% of Bihar’s population and upper castes another 14%.
Ironically, it was Kumar who tried to weave a Mahadalit constituency to enlarge his vote base as chief minister. He installed Manjhi when he stepped down after Modi’s thumping Lok Sabha win, but the move has backfired as Manjhi asserted his power and tried to overshadow his mentor.