Patna: Bihar's chief minister-in-waiting Nitish Kumar is known as 'Chanakya' among his loyalists for his astute political brain. His trademark smile which conceals more than it reveals keeps his rivals, both inside the party and out of it, guessing all the time about his next move. But he seems to have met his match in protege Jitan Ram Manjhi, an unambitious, self-effacing Dalit leader till only a few months ago. The latter's latest moves have landed Nitish in a constitutional pickle. On Sunday, Manjhi even met Nitish's most bitter rival in politics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in Delhi to make his case.
Nitish appears to be on legally strong ground in the current stand-off over the top job in the state and unless the Governor decides to dissolve the House respecting Manjhi's recommendation he may soon take charge of the government. However, the repercussion of Manjhi's rebellion goes much deeper than the immediate crisis. It brings to halt the efforts of the JD(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, led by Lalu Yadav, to form a secular front against the BJP with the Dalit community forming its bedrock.
Manjhi has landed both the leaders struggling for political survival in a lose-lose situation. With his exit from the party, the latter stand to lose the support of the Dalits. They form around 22 percent of the state’s population and Nitish had handed over power to Manjhi, a leader from the unprivileged Mushar caste, to build a strong support base in this section. His bid to throw Manjhi out of his post with the support of Lalu has offended the community — there are protests on the streets already. Observers say the Nitish-Lalu plan to check the split in anti-BJP votes is in tatters now.
"The Lalu-Nitish combine will definitely suffer. To what extent, it is difficult to gauge now," explained political expert Dr Shaibal Gupta, member secretary of Asian Development Research Institute in Patna. Another expert, professor Sachindra Narayan, says the damage could be extensive since after exit of Dalits from their social combination, Lalu and Nitish will now have to be largely dependent on Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi caste.
"Upper castes left Nitish after he joined hands with Lalu. Now they will lose support of Dalits given the way Manjhi is being forced out. The entire message has not gone down well within the community," remarked professor Narayan adding, "Today leaders are coming together but they don't care about the social groups... Merger or good governance simply can’t work in such a situation. Respect is all everyone wants," he opined.
Similar is the comment from educationalist Khagendra Kumar. "Against the reality of caste-based politics in Bihar, such humiliation to Manjhi will certainly annoy the Dalit class and they are sizeable," said Kumar, adding, "The ground on which Nitish had quit still remains. If he had the desire to be back as CM, there was no point in quitting his post."
Experts believe even the Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi combination is fraught with risks and the castes may not easily come together given the fact that Yadavs and Kurmis, state’s two powerful backward castes, have been inimical to each other after Nitish ended the 15-year-old RJD regime in Bihar with BJP’s support. Nitish is also widely blamed for hatching a conspiracy along with others to make Lalu an accused in the fodder scam and such is its impact that today Lalu stands disqualified from contesting elections.
Also, the RJD-JD(U) cannot fully rely on Muslims given the past incident when the aggressive voting by minority class voters against the BJP-led to strong polarisation of Hindu voters in the last Lok Sabha polls resulting in a huge victory for the NDA.
The other thing that does not look going in RJD-JD(U) favour is the way Nitish chose to return to power. He had quit the job owing moral responsibility for the party’s humiliating defeat in last year’s LS polls. "Nitish resigned as chief minister owning up moral responsibility for party defeat. He said he had lost the support of the masses and thus it was not moral correct to remain in power. What happened in all these seven-eight months that he got desperate to climb back to power after meting out shabby treatment to a Dalit?" asked BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi. "His double-standards stands completely exposed now," he said.
However, the man who is set to be a bigger loser than Nitish is Lalu. For the past eight months or so, Lalu and his party had been enjoying power from backdoor since the RJD extended support to the Manjhi government. It’s common knowledge Manjhi was closer to Lalu than Nitish, and was reporting the RJD chief more frequently. That became clear when Manjhi chose to visit first the residence of Lalu, than his party venue during Makar Sankranti last month. Lalu was also said to have little say in the recent spate of transfers carried out by Manjhi. But in the changed situation, Lalu has lost Manjhi's support overnight. Now there will be none to hear Lalu in the Manjhi government which in all probability will be remote-controlled by the BJP.
Updated Date: Feb 09, 2015 10:44:42 IST