BJP-wary Nitish Kumar woos ‘Mahadalit’ politicians

The Asian Age.  | Sreeparna Chakrabarty

India, All India

The JD(U) has 71 MLAs, the LJP has two, HAM(Secular) one and RLSP 2 in the 243-member Assembly.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: After being allegedly ignored by the BJP in the recent Union Cabinet reshuffle, the Janata Dal (United) has again turned its focus on Bihar politics in a bid to gain a dominant position within the NDA in the state and guard against BJP eating into its core “Mahadalit” vote bank.

Sources said JD(U) president and chief minister Nitish Kumar is attempting to join forces with Ram Vilas Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Jitan Ram Manjhi-led Hindustani Awam Morcha(Secular) and Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) that call the shots in constituencies dominated by Mahadalits.

The JD(U) has 71 MLAs, the LJP has two, HAM(Secular) one and RLSP 2 in the 243-member Assembly.

Mr Kumar, who has assiduously nurtured the core Mahadalit vote bank over the years, and realises that the BJP, after joining his government, has started fancying its chances of winning over voters from this extremely backward class.

Within the NDA and in Bihar, Mr Kumar is now rapidly trying to form a sub-group of like-minded outfits and bring their leaders closer to him, sources said.

His move to make Mr Paswan’s brother Pashupati Kumar Paras a Cabinet minister and offering a berth to Mr Majhi’s son is being seen as attempts to win them over.

As part of his consolidation plan, Mr Kumar is also in talks with 14 Congress MLAs, out of a total of 27, for switching sides and joining the JD(U), sources said.

The BJP has 53 MLAs, RJD 80 and Congress 27 in the Assembly. After pulling out of the RJD-Congress Grand Alliance, Mr Kumar joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to return as the chief minister for the sixth time in the last 12 years.

Just before the formation of government in Bihar, Mr Kumar told Mr Paswan, who was on a visit to the state, that he wanted to make the LJP leader’s brother a Cabinet minister.

When Mr Paswan pointed out that Mr Paras was not an MLA, the JD(U) chief promised him that Mr Paras will be brought into the Cabinet as a member of the legislative council.

Mr Kumar has promised a Cabinet berth to Mr Manjhi as well. Incidentally, the JD(U) chief had a bitter fall out with Mr Manjhi in 2015 when the latter had refused to vacate the chief minister’s chair for him.

At the core of this warmth among Mr Kumar, Mr Paswan and Mr Manjhi is the fight for the Mahadalit vote bank. Earlier, when Mr Manjhi had joined the NDA in 2015, the BJP had hoped to tap into this vote bank but he had failed to deliver, sources said.

The coming closer of these parties will give the JD(U) an upper hand in the Bihar alliance which, as of now, is seen to be tilted in favour of the BJP. Through this, Mr Kumar is also nurturing his core constituency ahead of the 2019 general elections or the next Assembly polls.