Cracks surfaced in the BJP-led NDA camp ahead of Bihar polls with a war of words brewing between two of its Dalit leaders -- Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) (Secular) founder Jitan Ram Manjhi and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan -- days after the rival grand secular alliance was hit by the exit of Samajwadi Party.
Former chief minister Manjhi on 8 September claimed that the LJP leader had insulted him by telling a news channel that "he (Manjhi) was on trial in NDA".
Manjhi said he was offended by the purported remark as he has been in active politics since 1970s and has served as an MLA, minister in the state Cabinet and also chief minister for around nine months in the current JD-U government.
Hitting out at Paswan, Manjhi questioned the former's status as "a leader of Dalits" and accused him of practicing "family-centric politics".
"How could he (Paswan) claim to be a national leader of Dalits when he did not utter a word on several issues plaguing the Scheduled Castes (SC). He didn't even protest when his own castes of Paswan and Dusadh were not included among 'mahadalits' by the Nitish Kumar government," Manjhi told reporters.
Flanked by HAM leaders Nitish Mishra, Ajit Singh, Poonam Devi and others, Manjhi said it was him who had included the Paswan and Dusadh castes among 'mahadalits' and asserted that, considering that achievement, Union Minister Paswan could not be regarded as a leader of even his own caste.
Taking a dig at Paswan, Manjhi further said he was ready to accept the LJP chief as an "international leader if only he could separate himself from the family-centric politics he practices".
"I am telling this with due respect that Paswan has been unable to raise himself and his party above his son and brothers. His entire politics revolves around them," added Manjhi.
BJP, which had almost swept Bihar in the Lok Sabha polls in alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP and Upendra Kushwaha's RLSP, is hoping to repeat its performance in the Assembly polls. The party has said that seat-sharing talks for the upcoming state polls would be concluded amicably among the NDA allies -- BJP, LJP, RLSP and Hindustani Awam Morcha.
Samajwadi Party had recently walked out of the grand alliance in Bihar saying it had felt "humiliated" after not being consulted by the larger partners in the state like RJD and JD-U over seat sharing for the polls later this year.