Paswan emerges bigger Dalit leader than Manjhi in Bihar (News Analysis)

Patna, Sep 15 (IANS) Locked in a political tussle to take on the mantle of Dalit leadership ahead of the Bihar assembly elections, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief and union minister Ram Vilas Paswan has emerged a clear winner over former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) president Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Paswan’s political supremacy is quite evident from the 40 seats the LJP bagged from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance on Monday as compared to only 20 of the HAM.

BJP president Amit Shah announced that his party would contest 160 of the 243 assembly seats while 23 seats went to another ally, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP).

Manjhi had been projecting himself as a bigger leader of the Dalits in Bihar than Paswan. He claimed in public that Paswan was not a leader of the state’s Dalits, but he was.

The former chief minister also questioned Paswan’s credentials to project himself as a Dalit leader, saying: “He (Paswan) has not done anything for the Dalits and the poorest of the poor.”

Manjhi also expressed displeasure over Paswan’s recent statement that Manjhi was on trial in the NDA. He accused Paswan of promoting his son Chirag Paswan and his brothers within the LJP at the cost of everyone else.

Interestingly, till he was handpicked by Nitish Kumar to replace him as chief minister in May 2014 following JD-U’s rout in the Lok Sabha polls, Manjhi was hardly a well known Dalit leader. He began projecting himself as such only after he became the chief minister.

Manjhi has been in politics since the early 80s; he was an MLA and a minister in the governments led by the Congress, Rabri Devi and Nitish Kumar.

“Paswan has managed to convince Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah that he is the real Dalit face, not Manjhi. The BJP has decided to give more weightage to Paswan’s LJP than Manjhi’s HAM. In fact, Manjhi’s dream to emerge as a powerful Dalit leader has been cut to size by Paswan and the BJP,” JD-U leader Naval Sharma said.

After he was removed as chief minister early this year, Manjhi was however vigorously trying to emerge as a Dalit leader,” said Ranjeev, a political activist.

He said the BJP had made it amply clear as to who the bigger Dalit leader was by giving more seats to Paswan’s LJP.

Interestingly, HAM spokesperson Danish Rizwan said in Patna on Saturday that the party would not accept a single seat less than the LJP since “Manjhi is the biggest Dalit leader”. In fact, the seat-sharing announcement in the NDA was delayed due to this fight for supremacy between Paswan and Manjhi.

Manjhi belongs to Musahar – a Mahadalit sub-caste that constitutes 12 per cent of the state’s population of nearly 11 crore. His party has 13 MLAs in the assembly.

Paswan belongs to Dusadh – a Dalit sub-caste that is politically, socially and economically the strongest of all Dalit sub-castes in Bihar.

“Paswan is the undisputed leader of the Paswans, who constitute nearly 4 per cent of the state’s population. Paswan has proved his capability to transfer his caste votes to whichever party he has joined in the past,” a senior BJP leader said.

The BJP leader said the Mushahar was the weakest of the 21 sub-castes included in the Mahadalit category by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar a few years ago.

“Manjhi is yet to prove his capability to transfer his caste’s votes to the alliance he has joined,” the leader added.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

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