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Image management: Before Bihar polls, BJP ‘tells’ allies to go public about unity in the alliance

A month ahead of the crucial Bihar Assembly Election, the Bharatiya Janata Party has reportedly asked its allies in the state to make public pronouncements of unity within the alliance. With incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and has Mahagathbandhan on ‘shaky ground’ (Read this Firstpost article), the BJP will not want to squander any advantage — and getting its allies to display a united front is part of the effort.

The Indian Express reports that the BJP, apprehensive about the effect in-fighting and bickering could have on the NDA’s public image, asked its allies — the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Hindustani Awami Morcha (HAM) — to send out signals that all was well.

Jitan Ram Manjhi (left) and Ram Vilas Paswan (right). IBNLive

Jitan Ram Manjhi (left) and Ram Vilas Paswan (right). IBNLive

This, according to the report, included a letter from the RLSP’s Upendra Kushwaha to Amit Shah reposing faith in the BJP’s ability to take a ‘fair decision on the basis of ground realities’ to decide the seat-sharing formula in the state.

Meanwhile, former chief minister and HAM leader Jitan Ram Manjhi was reportedly asked by the BJP to publicly set aside concerns about friction between the allies. India Today reports that while dismissing reports of a falling out with LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan, Manji said, “Paswanji is like an elder brother to me. Such differences do occur in a family”.

IANS had reported on Wednesday that the finalisation of the NDA’s Bihar seat-sharing arrangement had been held up as a result of disagreements between Manjhi and Paswan.

According to The Indian Express, Kushwaha had been demanding around 70 seats (out of a total 243) for RLSP candidates, while Manjhi, as per India Today had ‘hinted’ that his party would not settle for less than 160 seats. The LJP, according to a report in The Tribune, had asked for around 80 seats.

The BJP is reported to have offered 20 seats to the RLSP, between 35 and 40 seats to the LJP and around 10 to 15 seats to the HAM.

Nevertheless, Ananth Kumar, who is heading the BJP’s effort in the state, expressed satisfaction at Kushwaha’s letter. And following separate meetings with Paswan, Manjhi and Kushwaha on Thursday, told The Indian Express “The seat-sharing formula will be very respectable. All four parties will contest the elections together and we will win in Bihar”.

‘Worried about avam not aam’: Nitish slams Manjhi after allegations that cops were sent to guard trees

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Nitish worried about aam, not aam janata, says Sushil Modi

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Bihar: Lalu Prasad Yadav plays the Manjhi card to cut Nitish Kumar to size

Patna: Even as the game of one-upmanship between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad continues to keep the united Janata Parivar a now on-now off affair in Bihar, former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has emerged as a crucial player in the electoral calculations of all parties. He may not be a political heavyweight compared to the JD(U) or the RJD top guns but he has placed himself in a unique position where he becomes a bargaining chip all negotiations.

In February this year, RJD chief Lalu Prasad had joined Nitish Kumar’s intensive campaign to remove Jitan Ram Manjhi as chief minister, blaming the Dalit leader for hobnobbing with the BJP leadership. Barely three months on, he is fighting hard to get Manjhi back in the Janata family at the risk of his friendship with Nitish. The latter is strongly opposed to the Dalit leader’s inclusion in the new formation. Manjhi, meanwhile, has been in constant touch with the BJP, keeping the speculation mill active about his moves.

Jitan Ram Manjhi. PTIJitan Ram Manjhi. PTI

Jitan Ram Manjhi. PTI

The big question now is why has Manjhi become so important for Lalu? Has he really emerged as a major Dalit force in the state that no party can afford to ignore? This may be or may not be the case but political observers here feel he is being used simply as a tool to cut Nitish down to size after he appeared a bit arrogant when he advised the RJD to contest all 243 seats in response to latter demand for 145 seats.

RJD insiders said Lalu had all along been silent when Nitish re-inducted PK Shahi and Lalan Singh, the men who were instrumental in ruining RJD chief’s active political career, allegedly ignoring his objections during his fresh term as chief minister. During his bitter power struggle lasting for a fortnight, former chief minister Manjhi had dismissed the duo from his cabinet and Nitish was supposed to “honour” Lalu’s sentiments but he went his own way. Lalu again kept quiet when his suggestions were brazenly ignored in the transfer/posting of officials. He again went tight-lipped when Nitish cancelled all the 34 key Cabinet decisions taken by the previous Manjhi government without consulting him although the JD(U) government runs with the support of the RJD.

It, however, stung him hard when Nitish reacted impolitely to Lalu’s request, suggesting the state government to move the Supreme Court against Patna High Court’s order annulling the reservation in job promotions for SC/ST, and then publicly reprimanded another senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh for his demand for 145 seats—summarily rejecting his demand with a bitter dose of derision. “Why 145? The entire 243 seats are available,” was how Nitish had reacted to RJD’s demand for seats.

Observers say it is here that the matter went worse between the two leaders. Lalu had not questioned the frequent moves by Nitish to meet the BJP leaders and ministers on one pretext or the other. Nitish had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitely twice since he returned to power. Apart from this, he even had dinner with his old BJP friend Jaitely each time he was in Delhi in connection with his “official parogrammes”. What was strange, each such meeting with the BJP leaders was preceded by the scheduled meetings over Janata family merger.

Raising the BJP fear or in other words showing his proximity with the BJP, Nitish was perhaps constantly pressuring the RJD to project him as the chief ministerial face of the alliance or merged group for the past some time. In fact, the JD(U) wanted to first settle the issue of the chief ministership than anything else before it went to polls in alliance while Lalu was in favour of deciding over the issue post poll outcome.

These all developments apparently provoked Lalu to make a demand to bring back Manjhi. It is an open secret now how Nitish frets at the mere mention of the latter.

Observers say the ‘Manjhi ploy’ is meant to show Nitish his real place in the RJD-JD(U) alliance. Lalu knows JD(U) sans Manjhi is now a very weak force since Manjhi’s ouster has summarily denied it the support of a huge 22-23 percent support base of Dalit class while Nitish will lose his credibility and dent his image further if he joins the leadership of Narendra Modi over whom he had left the NDA two years ago. To make the matter worse, the BJP has already shut its door on him saying there is no question of any alliance with Nitish even if he apologises for his past mistakes.

Nitish has very few options left for him right now. Stitching an alliance with the Congress and Left could be another option but for Nitish this can’t be described as a good idea as both the parties have lost significant ground over the years and are themselves battling hard for survival. Moreover, opting for this alliance may cost Nitish his job since his government now runs with the support of the RJD.

The modern day ‘Chanakya’, as he is described by his followers, is in a tricky situation indeed.

Unfazed by expulsion, Bihar CM Jitan Manjhi calls cabinet meeting again

Patna: Unfazed by the uncertainty over his continuance, Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi called a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and might recommend dissolution of the state assembly, an official said.

“Manjhi has called a meeting of his cabinet at 4 pm on Tuesday. Though the agenda is not known, he may take some big decisions, including recommending dissolution of the state assembly,” an official in the chief minister office here said.

The development came a day after Manjhi insisted that he remained chief minister till he fails to prove his majority in the state assembly. A Janata Dal-United leader close to Manjhi, however, said he “may or may not recommend dissolution of the state assembly, but by holding a cabinet meeting, he wanted to send a strong massage that he is still a chief minister”.

In the last cabinet meeting on 7 February after senior Bihar minister Narendra Singh had proposed dissolution of the assembly, 21 of the 28 ministers had walked out.

Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi. IBNLive

These ministers were considered close to former chief minister Nitish Kumar.

The battle lines have clearly been drawn as Manjhi, expelled from the ruling JD-U Monday, sought to prove his majority on the floor of the assembly and his predecessor, Nitish Kumar, staking claim to form the government, accused Manjhi of “horse-trading”.

Things came to a boil on Monday when Nitish Kumar met Governor Keshri Nath Tripathi and formally staked claim to form the government.

He, along with 130 legislators of his JD-U, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress and the Communist Party of India marched to Raj Bhavan.

Manjhi, hand-picked by then chief minister Nitish Kumar as his replacement when he quit last year after the JD-U’s rout in the Lok Sabha polls, also met the governor and sought to prove his majority in the assembly but by “secret ballot”.

In the 243-member assembly, the JD-U has 115 legislators – most of whom are reportedly with Nitish Kumar. It is backed by 24 legislators of the RJD, five of the Congress, two Independents and one from the CPI.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has 88 legislators and is supported by three Independents.


Manjhi pitches for special status for ‘backward’ Bihar at NITI meet

New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi on Sunday pitched for “special category status” for Bihar, a demand long pushed by his mentor-turned-adversary Nitish Kumar, saying it will pave the way for economic development and employment generation in the backward state.

Jitan Ram Manjhi pitched for special status for Bihar at the NITI Aayog meet. IBNLive

He said without the special status the high growth rate achieved by it would not be sustainable.

Addressing the maiden Governing Council of Niti Aayog, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought views of chief ministers on the budgetary allocation to states and various central projects, supported the creation of the new body in place of Planning Commission but also offered veiled criticism of the plan body’s reported function as a “think tank”.

He wondered whether the Niti Aayog will decide allocation of special resources and said, “Will special resources for backward states be made available by the Aayog. I have read in various media reports that it will be done by Finance Ministry. If it is true, then it would be retrograde step.”

He also said that the main concern was the allocation of resources to states.

Noting that “a new idea and vision is required in changing economic and social conditions”, Manjhi said he agreed that there should be a mechanism like Niti Aayog which enhanced “cooperative federalism” and provides a platform to the Centre and states for regular dialogue.

“If Bihar is given special category status, then its share in central scheme will go down and it could utilise its resources in more effective ways… It will lead to better economic conditions, more employment opportunities and improved living conditions.

“That is why people in Bihar have been seeking the status without which we cannot sustain high growth rate achieved in the last nine years,” he said.

also see

BJP accuses Nitish of being unjust to Manjhi; Modi, Amit Shah discuss issue with party leaders

Bihar: JD-U may be headed for a split over likely replacement of CM Manjhi

Bihar: JD(U) appears headed for a Nitish-Manjhi showdown ahead of party meeting

Manjhi said he would not be able to speak in details about the national development agenda listed by the Aayog as he got the agenda on two days back but stresses that a final decision should be taken only after considering inputs from all states.

He listed poverty elimination as the most important criteria by which nation’s “success” should be measured.

Government should empower weaker sections, especially SCs and STs, so that they have a say in deciding on developmental or else “economic development will remain incomplete”.

Speaking about various new central schemes like ‘Swachh Bharat’, ‘Namami Gange’, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, Manjhi said he had no ideological problems with them and in fact supported some, but there was a concern that a long list of such schemes would cut down on the allocation of money to schemes benefiting poor.

He also demanded that allocation of resources should be based on 2011 census not 1971, as the case now.


As party members pick Nitish as leader, Manjhi to meet PM Modi in Delhi today

New Delhi: Beleaguered Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi is set to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi in the evening today with the two expected to discuss the political situation in the state where an overwhelming majority of ruling JD(U) MLAs yesterday chose Nitish Kumar as their party leader.

Sources close to Manjhi, who has refused to step down and termed the JD(U) Legislature Party meet yesterday “unconstitutional”, said he wanted BJP to support his bid to prevent Kumar — his one-time mentor against whom he has rebelled — from taking over from him. At the meeting, which is scheduled to be held at 5 PM, Manjhi and Modi could explore possibilities in this regard, they added.

Manjhi is here to attend the NITI Aayog meet where Modi will seek views of chief ministers on the budgetary allocation for the states and various central projects even though JD(U) has disapproved of his bid to take part in the exercise, saying his position as chief minister was no longer tenable.

Jitan Ram Manjhi in a file photo. PTI

Although BJP is keen to exploit the crisis within JD(U) to consolidate its position in Bihar, it is also wary about propping up Manjhi, whose tenure has been criticised by its state unit for poor governance.

The lack of support for the Mahadalit leader within his own party is also dissuading BJP from coming out openly to back Manjhi as it believes that numbers in the Bihar Assembly clearly favour Kumar.

Manjhi, on the other hand, is also exploring the possibility of a fresh election in the state — a demand also made by senior Bihar BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi — if the Bihar Governor Kesrinath Tripathi agrees to his Cabinet proposal to dissolve the Assembly.

Only seven members of the Manjhi Cabinet had supported the proposal at their meeting yesterday while 21 others had opposed it.

Later, 97 of JD(U)’s 111 MLAs met to replace Manjhi with Kumar as their new leader, underlining the lack of support for the chief minister within his own party.