After three days of hectic parleys over seat sharing in the Bihar assembly polls, former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi accepted an offer of 20 berths, keeping the National Democratic Alliance's (NDA's) flock together in the politically crucial state that will see a five-phase election from October 12 to November 5.
Apart from the 20 seats Manjhi managed to secure for his Hindustanti Awam Morcha – Secular, around five of his partymen will join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the polls and contest on BJP tickets.
Asked if he was content with the deal, Manjhi told HT on Monday that it was not a question of "my happiness". The bigger issue is to prevent Bihar from slipping into ‘jungle raj’, he said, adding: "I will concentrate on that."
“When we have to go for the Ravan vadh (killing of Ravana), we have to accept certain things. It was for the BJP to decide whether it wanted to give me the brahmashtra (a divine weapon). Now, we have to concentrate on election campaigning. BJP wants me to be part of the main campaign team," he said.
Manjhi also tried to downplay reports that he was peeved over the seat-sharing formula initially proposed by the NDA, and that his resentment led to the delay in a formal announcement.
According to the deal announced by BJP chief Amit Shah, the saffron party will contest 160 of the 243 seats in Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will contest 40, Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party will contest 23 seats and Manhji's HAM-S will contest 20.
The BJP and Manjhi's party managed to reach a seat-sharing agreement on Sunday after marathon talks between the two sides. Manjhi's associates had threatened to reconsider continuing in the alliance if a "respectable" offer was not made after the BJP agreed to spare 13-15 seats for them.
“In fact, I had given my consent Sunday night. HAM had given unconditional support to the BJP and authorised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah to decide on seats. So, there was no issue,” he added.
Convincing Manjhi to stay on board, however, was reportedly not that easy, as the BJP top brass had to pull all stops and even resort to a last-minute rejig to put up a united show. Analysts feel the BJP's stand has underlined the importance of Manjhi in the BJP’s strategy in Bihar, where it faces a so-called grand alliance of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United), Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress.
Manjhi, a former leader of the JD(U), reiterated there was no hitch, but he wanted to consult his core committee members before going ahead with any decision on seat sharing. “Ours is a small party and we wanted to move ahead democratically. Our core committee members, including Brishin Patel, Shahid Ali Khan and others, arrived Sunday evening. The decision was taken soon after that,” he said.
"We want an NDA victory and a win in 185 seats. It will be our priority to select the winning candidates. From the beginning, we have never talked of seats. We have given unconditional support to (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi and Amit Shah."
On the number of HAM candidates contesting on BJP tickets, Manjhi said it was decided that five would be accommodated, though there could be a couple more or less depending on the situation.
“I have to first see who all would like to contest on BJP tickets and from where. That will be decided after consultations,” he added.
Asked about speculations that he could contest from two seats, Manjhi did not give any definite answer. “Many party leaders feel that I should not contest, while others want I should. I have not yet decided yet,” he added.