Former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi on Sunday said being in the NDA as a junior partner of the BJP and the JD(U) was causing “ghutan” (suffocation) and he regretted having stepped down in 2015, less than a year after being sworn in to the highest seat of power in the state. Manjhi, whose Hindustani Awam Morcha has four MLAs in the 243-strong assembly, was also of the view that with proper “samanjasya” (coordination) “we can make our presence felt in the upcoming legislative council polls when our support will be solicited by our bigger partners”.
Manjhi, whose son Santosh Kumar Suman is a minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet and has also been anointed as the HAM national president, was addressing the party’s national executive. NDA leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, sneered at “yet another tantrum” thrown by the septuagenarian and pointed towards his past vacillations to assert that his averments, though objectionable, were of little significance for the ruling coalition.
Active in politics since the 1980s, Manjhi has served as a minister under many chief ministers although his moment of glory came in May 2014 when Nitish Kumar, owning moral responsibility for the JD(U)’s debacle in Lok Sabha polls, gave up the chief minister’s post. After JD(U) rank and file failed to reach a consensus on the replacement for its de facto leader, Kumar intervened and backed Manjhi, who was seen as a loyalist and could also serve the purpose of sending across the message that the leader promoted a Dalit upon stepping down.
However, the months that followed bore witness to a huge political churning in Bihar and Kumar forged an alliance with archrival Lalu Prasad. Manjhi had, by that time, come to be seen as unsteady and accused by many of having become too chummy with the BJP. After Manjhi was commanded by the party to step down and make way for the return of his mentor, he tried to put up a semblance of revolt, but later resigned realising that numbers were not on his side.
He also quit the JD(U) along with some dissidents who had grown averse to Nitish Kumar and the breakaway group came to be known as HAM which the BJP-led NDA, then shorn of a strong alliance in Bihar, gladly accommodated. The Grand Alliance that came into being as a result of the Lalu-Nitish alliance, however, inflicted a crushing defeat on the NDA in the 2015 assembly polls. Manjhi, who was in a state of limbo, feared further marginalisation when Kumar returned to the NDA in 2017. The HAM founder quit the NDA, joined the RJD-Congress alliance, and was quickly rewarded with a legislative council berth for his son by Lalu Prasad’s party which had sufficient numbers in the assembly.
However, he soon grew impatient with the RJD and its heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav and broke away ahead of the 2020 assembly polls. His return to the NDA had led to speculations of HAM’s merger with the JD(U) which did not take place though Manjhi himself never ruled out such a possibility. Known for speaking his mind on matters like liquor consumption and religion, much to the discomfiture of his more hard-nosed allies, Manjhi has often rued that he was never “taken seriously”.
With inputs from News18