Nitish back in Bihar as Manjhi buckles

Bihar political tussle between Jitan Ram Manjhi and Nitish Kumar ended abruptly on Friday with the former throwing in the towel before the real fight (Confidence Motion). This has left BJP fuming as they had declared their support to Manjhi for the Floor Test. Jitan Ram Manjhi needed support of 117 MLAs to prove his majority. He seemed to have support of only 12 JDU MLAs including 7 of his Cabinet Ministers. Four of these rebel MLAs were barred from voting as per High Court directive. So even with BJP's 87 MLAs he would have fallen short and was unable to get in more MLAs into his fold.

He realised that the going would be tough for him in the Assembly especially with Speaker on JDU side and resigned fearing humiliation. His unscheduled visit to the Governor's bungalow in the morning of Trust Vote raised speculation that he has blinked in the game of "who blinks first".

The Bihar crisis lasted for the past two weeks had all the elements of a Bollywood movie - drama, emotion, comedy, action, romance and suspense. Everybody from President to Governor to Speaker to Courts have been involved in this potboiler.

Drama - JDU legislators appointed Nitish as their legislative party chief. High court termed his appointment as illegal and put a stay order. A few days later the court ratified his anointment.

Emotion - Nitish in Kejriwal style issued an apology to Bihar voters on his resignation last year. He promised won’t ever resign again.

Comedy - JDU accused BJP of horse trading. They called a press conference and provided evidence that Pappu Yadav, MP of their ally Lalu Yadav, is luring its MLAs with money and Ministerial positions. Hilarious! Did they forget that Pappu is not from BJP?

Romance - The new found bonhomie between BJP and Manjhi was the talk of the town. BJP which at one pint had given a score of 0/10 to Manjhi suddenly realised the greatness of this Mahadalit leader and backed him in his fight against Nitish.

Action - JDU paraded 130 MLAs in front of the President. Meanwhile BJP staged a dharna outside Speaker Chamber alleging partiality.

Suspense - Manjhi carried on the CM mantle till he could and claimed that he would prove majority on the Floor of the House or else resign, but won't gave up without a fight. This prompted BJP to announce its formal support as they wanted to put roadblocks in Nitish's swearing in. In the end, Manjhi ran away from the Floor Test leaving BJP fuming.

BJP and JDU have had a troubled relationship since the day Nitish broke away from NDA after Modi was announced as BJP campaign chief. BJP handed a severe blow to Nitish in Lok Sabha where JDU managed to win only 2 seats, down from 20 odd seats in 2009. This led to Nitish resigning from CM post. Nitish then formed an alliance with Lalu and won 6 / 10 seats in State by polls.

BJP got an opportunity to nail Nitish again when Manjhi raised a revolt in JDU. BJP used Manjhi's shoulder to fire against Nitish. However, BJP carried its hostility towards Nitish a bit too far. As long as it was portraying that Manjhi episode is an internal matter of JDU it was still OK. BJP erred in making its decision to back Manhji publicly. There was no need to do so, they should have maintained their stand that they would decide on the Floor of the House whether to support Manjhi or not.

By openly backing Manjhi just a day before trust vote, BJP in effect accepted JDU allegations that it was backing a minority government and using state machinery to destabilise JDU. Manjhi's open invitation to MLAs to join him if they want to become Ministers also showed BJP in poor light. A section of Bihar public began associating BJP with jot-tod politics prevalent in 1980s/1990s when anti defection laws were not very strict and social / online / electronic media was absent. And to top it all, the soldier whose shoulder was being used to fire bullets ran away from the war zone at the last minute, when all preparations of war had been made, bullets had been stocked.

Manjhi belongs to the Mahadalit caste accounting for 10 per cent of population and could play a crucial role in next elections. In Lok Sabha, NDA bagged 40 per cent of votes, UPA (RJD+Congress) bagged 30 per cent and JDU 16 per cent. In Lok Sabha, Lalu and Nitish fought separately but joined hands later making theirs a combined 46 per cent vote share. Mahadalits till now were supporters of JDU as Nitish created this caste and made it eligible for reservations. BJP strategy was to get majority of the Mahadalit votes by backing Manjhi and showing how Nitish / Lalu ganged up to remove a poor Dalit CM. By getting majority Mahadalit votes, BJP could get a slight edge over JDU+RJD+Congress combine.

When asked whether backing Manjhi would be detrimental for party in long run, BJP State leaders said that they were thinking only about trust vote and not about the future. This was rather childish I think.

BJP knew that Manjhi can't get the numbers. The strategy was to let Manjhi get defeated on Floor of the House and gain sympathy votes by making him a martyr. But BJP ended up in making Nitish a martyr. Nitish gained the high moral ground. He claimed that nefarious plans of BJP have been thwarted.

What next for BJP?

Nitish is a popular Chief Minister. At least 64 per cent of people surveyed in Lok Sabha polls said that they were satisfied with his Government’s performance (Source: Lokniti report). This has definitely reduced during Manjhi's tenure. While Nitish would try to improve the ratings, BJP would try to cobble a coalition to take on Lalu-Nitish-Congress combine. A direct two way fight is going to be tight as we have seen in Delhi.

Caste will play a key role in Bihar polls due by the end of the year. BJP could induct Manjhi or he may float this own party and join NDA. Both suits BJP. Manjhi was a nobody before becoming CM. To think that he has the majority community votes with him is not also right.

Rather than focussing too much on Manjhi episode, it would be better if BJP focuses on the unholy alliance of Nitish-Lalu. Nitish may be popular, but Lalu is equally unpopular and people don't want return of Jungle Raj. BJP would also gain hope form the fact that this alliance will face tough times while finalising seat sharing agreement.

BJP wanted to delay and not give CM post easily to Nitish saying its an internal matter of JDU. But by backing Manjhi openly it has lost the ground to Nitish. Will it have an impact on polls? Not really. Seven months is a long time and this cannot become an election issue.

Bihar BJP suffers severe infighting and they will need to project a clear leader well in advance to take on Nitish. Dilly dallying and delaying this will prove detrimental to its fortunes. So while its 2-1 in favour of Nitish (Manjhi trust vote plus by polls victory vs lone Lok Sabha victory of BJP), BJP has a chance to square the score in November. Only time will tell…


Courtesy Niti Central



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