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How Nitish Kumar stole the show in Bihar

Friday, 23 May 2014 - 5:18pm IST

You can call it the BJP’s good luck in winning the 25 seats in Bihar, or the ‘Modi wave’, which, along with the political decline of the Congress and other secular and non-NDA fronts, helped Narendra Modi and the BJP achieve victory in the Lok Sabha elections and walk the corridors of power once more.

The BJP made a concentrated effort to come to power in the Hindi heartland, and Bihar was its prime target after the coalition with the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) ended. And there were stories all over Bihar that the state may witness some unusual setbacks after the new government forms at the Centre.

But Nitish Kumar, with some brilliant political engineering, stole the show and regained media attention of the scale he had enjoyed in his early days when he announced his resignation as Bihar chief minister. 

The media coverage surrounding him that Saturday was akin to the media overdose during Modi’s visits to Varanasi. From the moment television news channels broke the news of Nitish’s resignation, it was a busy weekend for the media as well as the political and bureaucratic centres, continuing well into the week all the way up to Tuesday, when Bihar’s new chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and his cabinet was sworn in. This gave a real sense of the politics of one the states of India most dominated by caste and other such factors.

Nitish claimed his resignation was in response to the party’s performance in the general elections, and given on moral grounds, as he stood first in order to prevent Hindutva forces from coming to power. 

His resignation gave birth to several questions, mainly:
1. How will the new government be formed?
2. Would there be mid-term polls?
3. Which parties would become new political allies?
4. Would Nitish Kumar say sorry to the BJP?
5. Would Lalu Prasad Yadav be given chance? And
6. Will the JD(U) see a split again?

The declaration of results on May 16 set off a series of events across the JD(U). On the one hand, there were demands of a division of the party, and on the other, two different lobbies of MLAs formed, with some of them shouting down JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav in the party’s internal meetings.

Several party heavyweights rubbed shoulders and threats flew all around. The BJP claimed it was capable of making the new government, and that, after the general elections were over, they would have the support of some 50-55 JD(U) MLAs and may form a new government in Bihar.

BJP leaders also met Bihar governor DY Patil on Sunday evening, to discuss the options for forming the new government, setting off rumours.

But Monday seemed to be designed by Nitish alone, and he surprised everyone when he announced that Manjhi, hailing from the Mahadalit community, would be Bihar’s new chief minister. The JD(U) also presented support letters from 119 MLAs to the governor, of which two are independent MLAs. The Bihar Vidhan Sabha comprises 239 members in total. 

Nitish’s announcement made took a hammer to many things at a time, primarily by dismissing all the misleading waves created by the BJP on the government’s decline. It also maintained the JD(U)’s power quotient, though Sharad Yadav seemed to be losing the upper hand, especially at the grassroots and among the MLAs. By fielding Manjhi’s name as a joint selection, Nitish also clipped the wings of Narendra Singh, who was piped to be the next chief minister.

By excluding Narendra Narayan Yadav as chief minister, Nitish also appeased Lalu Prasad Yadav, and the doors of friendship between the two remain open. Sharad Yadav would have gained power if NN Yadav had become CM, but Nitish’s masterstroke rendered him powerless. Selecting a person from the Mahadalit caste was also a reward to the entire community, who remained loyal to the JD(U) in the previous elections. 

The BJP decried Nitish’s moves, calling them “remote control” politics, and recalled the time when Lalu Prasad fielded his wife Rabri Devi as CM and his new political face. But Nitish’s political masterstroke earned him the emotional support of the minorities and the anti-BJP OBCs in the state. People in Bihar called him the “vikas purush” after 15 long black years of Lalu Prasad’s rule. 

Some political scientists also said this formula of Dalit appeasement comes from the Congress, like the time they proposed Dalit leaders like Babu Jagjiwan Ram on the national level, and other Dalit leaders in different regions to consolidate Dalit votes, while the real status of the Dalits remained the same. This attitude of Congress helped Kanshi Ram to constitute a parallel Dalit force which is now known as the BSP.

The same Dalit factor had already helped Nitish when he came up with the Mahadalit status for downtrodden communities of the society who still support him for the reforms. Although Manjhi is not the first ever Dalit CM of Bihar, Nitish would not have been easily able to get some from the OBC or a minority or even someone from the forward castes as the CM, as he would have lost the move. 

These events also showed that though Sharad Yadav used his power to force Nitish to resign, all attention was on Nitish when he announced his vision for the state’s development, and he even hinted that he would do some big things in future. 

Manjhi was rewarded for his loyalty, and also for his longevity with the Mahadalit caste. Manjhi lost the last Lok Sabha elections and did not even get a ministerial portfolio in Nitish’s first term due to his involvement in the B Ed scam that time. Later, when he got relief from these cases, he was rewarded with a ministerial portfolio in the second term. The Mahadslits have a good 10% in Bihar’s caste bouquet, and Nitish is still eyeing the backward and Muslim votes to regain his political power. He did not want to greet Modi as the new PM, claiming to be a secular CM. So his move achieved three goals at a time. 

Even if the opposition claims Nitish will still indirectly control the new CM, the newly formed government has a tough set of challenges to overcome. Similarly the MLAs will now also enjoy at least some real interaction with this CM who is considerably manageable than Nitish, who, as CM, ran a one man show for his entire two term tenure. There are also chances that now all small and big internal disputes of the party will be solved by Nitish alone, which would be a tricky affair if Sharad Yadav is not in a positive mood.

Former Deputy CM Sushil Modi, on the other hand, ended up as the biggest loser who did not even have the chance to utilise the Modi wave, and he was also blamed by JD(U) supporters for breaking the coalition for no reason. His claims of having the support of more than 50 JD(U) MLAs also disappeared when Nitish got the required numbers. 

Now the political psychosis of Bihar will see massive changes in the vacant Rajya Sabha seats of Ram Vilas Paswan, Ram Kripal Yadav, and Rajeev Pratap Rudy, which will see new faces. Two seats will be taken over by JD(U) and one will be used by the BJP, which already seems booked for Shah Nawaz Hussain after his defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. But the big question is whether Nitish will send Sharad to Delhi by the Rajya Sabha path, or someone else, in which case Sharad might see a dark phase ahead.

Lalu Prasad, on the other hand, knows he is out of politics for the next five years due to court compliance, and if Misa gets an easy entry, he may regain his Yadav vote-bank due to a sympathy wave. Misa has a clean image, which will also help in a complete makeover of the RJD in the coming days, as Lalu now faces a new challenge in his community for leadership in the form of Pappu Yadav, who claims to be the next Yadav stalwart. 

The Congress, after being thrown back from national politics is now in no mood to lose any of the battlegrounds, so it will easily go with the support system. So, the Congress also goes into silent mode.

On Tuesday evening, Patna witnessed a mixed bag of political faces when former SC-ST development minister and standing MLA from Makhdoompur assembly seat Jitan Ram Manjhi took oath as CM of Bihar. 17 other cabinet ministers were sworn in along with him, two of whom are independent MLAs Dulal Chandra Goswami and Vinay Bihari, who have been rewarded with ministerial portfolios.

The rest of the jumbo cabinet comprised both old and new faces, including comprised of names like Vijay Kumar Chaudhary, Vijayendra Prasad Yadav, Narendra Singh, Vrishin Patel, Ramayee Ram, Bheem Singh, Damodar Rawat, Narendra Narayan Singh, PK Shahi, Shahid Ali Khan, Shyam Rajak, Neetish Mishra, Awdhesh Kumar Kushwaha, Gautam Singh and Lesi Singh. 

The next big development could be that on while trying to appease the forward and other backward castes, Nitish will have to choose someone from either the Bhumihar or the Kurmi caste for the post of deputy chief minister. But Nitish is surely in the mood to surprise the BJP in their national pursuits by extending his candidature to lead the secular and socialist forces when the BSP and SP are in damage control mode.

Jitan Ram Manjhi:
An MLA from Makhdoompur
Father: The late Ramjeet Ram Manjhi
Profession: Agricultural labourer 
Date of birth: 06.10. 1944
Paternal village: Mahkhaar (Khijar saray) Gaya district 
Educational qualifications: Graduate
Marital status: Married
Wife: Shanti Devi
Family: Two sons and five daughters
Participation in active politics since 1980
MLA terms: 1980 to 1990, and 1996 to current
Deputy minister in state government: 1983 to 1985
Minister of state: 1985 to 1988, and 1998 to 2000
Cabinet minister: 2008 to May 2014
Conducted special programmes for the upliftment of Mahadalits
Active participation in the Mahadalit movement
Development of degree colleges and universities
Development for expansion of the Magahee language

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