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The Manjhi Factor: how the former CM may tilt the scales

Badri Narayan | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:23 IST

Margin bets

  • The difference of a few seats can make or break fortunes in the Bihar polls
  • Seats can be won or lost by thin margins
  • Small players can tilt the balance, making Jitan Ram Manjhi a major factor

Splits & mergers

  • Manjhi had a fallout with Nitish Kumar after being removed as CM
  • He is supposed to back the BJP-led NDA
  • Manjhi\'s HAM is also strenthening ties with Lalu Prasad\'s RJD

Capital gains

  • Manjhi has jumped ships several times and may change sides again
  • The Musahar leader\'s support may be crucial for any side to draw Mahadalit votes
  • Manjhi\'s ouster as CM led to a sympathy wave among Musahars

The Bihar elections were announced on Wednesday by the Election Commission. The political ambience in the state is already charged, thanks to the rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the campaigns of the Grand Alliance and the recent Self Esteem rallies.

Going by the campaigns, Bihar looks set for a tough electoral battle, where victories may be decided by thin margins. According to political analysts, the difference of a few seats can decide which alliance gets to form the government and which side sits in the Opposition benches.

In such a situation, the amalgamation of vote shares will be important, giving a lot of weight to smaller parties and their leaders. One such leader is Jeetan Ram Manjhi.

The former Bihar chief minister has generated a lot of buzz. He was annointed the CM by Nitish Kumar when the JD (U) stepped down from the position before the last General Elections.

Kumar had betted on Manjhi, a Mahadalit, as his successor to strengthen his political base among Dalits. But his proximity to the BJP, among other factors, spurred hin to call Manjhi a 'Vibhishan' and remove him from the CM's seat.

Among 18 MLAs who separated from the JD (U), five joined BJP and rest went with Manjhi. Now, the HAM is seeking tickets for all these 13 MLAs.

It is being said that while on one hand HAM is with the BJP, on the other it is strengthening its ties with Lalu Prasad. What they derive out of this will be interesting to see.

It is a popular maxim that everything is possible in politics. There can be speculation about how such possibilities materialize, but the Manjhi factor will undoubtedly benefit the side he finally aligns with.

At present, a coalition between Manjhi and the Grand Alliance seems a long shot. So we should focus on what the impact of a possible Manjhi-NDA alliance can be on the upcoming polls.

Manjhi's ouster as CM has led to a sympathy wave in his favour among Musahars; who stands to gain?

Manjhi was always a dominant leader of the Musahar community. Being the CM elevated his status as a political leader and when he was removed from the post, he gained a lot of sympathy from his community, further strengthening his stand.

According to the 2011 Census, nearly 16% of Bihar's 104 million people are Dalits. 21 of the 22 Dalit sub-castes have been designated Mahadalits, including the Bhuiyans, the Doms, the Chamars, the Dhobis and the Nats. The Musahars comprise a significant population though they still live in abject poverty and are mostly illiterate.

The deprived social state of communities like Musahars has propelled several political leaders towards making social justice a poll agenda. This has been the case for the last three decades in Bihar.

There has been a rise in political consciousness among Musahars, especially in terms of their social identities. At the same time, their involvement in Maoist movements have strengthened their political stand.

Keeping this issues in mind, Manjhi's ouster from chief ministership may prove fatal. It is highly possible that Musahar sympathy towards him may coagulate into support for the BJP.

Both the RJD and the JD (U) have many leaders representing Musahars. Still, Manjhi stands the tallest. Hence pockets dominated by the community, especially in central and north Bihar, the 'Manjhi factor' may tilt the scale towards the BJP.

As the BJP tries to project him as the face of Mahadalits, not only the Musahars but all Mahadalit communities will be important. Manjhi may just end up being the magnet that can draw the 10 per cent Mahadalit vote bank towards the BJP.

It will also be interesting to note which Mahadalit community emerge the most successful in this political game. Until now, the Musahars have been the most visible. Their emergence may create tension among communities.

The Manjhi factor may also help the 13 MLAs in attracting the votes of their own communities, at least in their own constituencies.

Kumar and Lalu are all geared up to reduce the Manjhi effect as much as they can. At all his gatherings and public meetings, the current CM has reiterated his plans for the upliftment of Mahadalits. He has also appointed leaders from the community to push his agenda intensively.

First published: 10 September 2015, 5:35 IST
Badri Narayan @CatchNews

The writer is a Social Historian and Cultural Anthropologist and currently Professor at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad