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Bihar Politics: BJP to Welcome Manjhi to NDA Despite Calling Lord Ram 'Imaginary'

The saffron party appears to have forgotten Manjhi’s widely reported stance against Hindutva politics in recent years.

Image Courtesy: PTI

Patna: The man who questioned the very existence of Lord Ram and repeatedly claimed that Ram was “kalpnik” (imaginary) is now being welcomed with open arms by the BJP in the fold of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. He is none other than former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjh, founder of the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) (HAM).

The saffron party appears to have forgotten and ignored Manjhi’s widely reported stance against Hindutva politics in recent years in order to join hands with him as a new ally in Bihar. One after another, senior state BJP leaders said that Manjhi was welcome in the NDA. 

Sources in the HAM told NewsClick that the BJP had offered Manjhi to appoint him as governor of a Northeast state and would give a ticket to his son Santosh Kumar Suman to contest from the Gaya Lok Sabha seat in next year’s elections. Gaya is the home district of Manjhi.

Manjhi used to directly target the BJP’s Hindutva politics based on Ram and Ramayana until last month. He claimed that Ram was an imaginary figure, not a historical one, and questioned the very existence of the Mythical divine figure.

Manjhi, who belongs to the Dalit Musahar community -- one of the most marginalised and backward sections, had reportedly said, “I don’t consider the Ramayana to be a true story. Nor do I think Lord Ram was a great man or a great historical person. I don’t consider the Ramayana story to be true.” 

Soon after that, BJP leaders launched a scathing attack against Manjhi for questioning the historicity of Ram.

Earlier, Manjhi has described the upper castes, a traditional support base of the BJP, as foreigners and descendants of Aryan invaders.

Political watchers in Bihar said the BJP has no option but to compromise with Manjhi to send a political message that the party has several allies. 

“Officially, to date, BJP has the Lok Janashakti Party of Union Minister Pasupati Kumar Paras as its only ally in Bihar, and a few small parties are standing in line to join the NDA. Until they formally join, the saffron party looks weak in comparison to the Mahagathbandhan,” a political observer said.

The top BJP leadership, including PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, are reportedly worried about facing the next election on its own in Bihar. It is one of the states where the saffron party is set to face a significant challenge from the ruling Mahagathbandhan, comprising the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav, Congress, and Left parties.

As Manjhi’s son Suman, a minister in the Mahagathbandhan government led by CM Nitish Kumar, resigned from the cabinet, his resignation was promptly accepted the next day on Tuesday. The promptness suggested that Mahagathbandhan has put an end to all speculations that the alliance would request senior Manjhi to ask junior Manjhi to withdraw his resignation and made it clear that HAM is free to move away.

Even though HAM is still part of the Mahagathbandhan, going by all indications, the party is on the verge of quitting the alliance. The top leaders of Mahagathbandhan, including Kumar (the chief of JD-U), RJD leader and Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, and RJD chief Lalu Prasad have not made any attempt to appeal to Manjhi to continue as an ally amid reports of his growing closeness with the BJP.

Several JD-U and RJD leaders said that Kumar had honoured and respected the father and son (Manjhi and Suman) by appointing the former as the CM in 2014 and the latter as a minister in the present cabinet.

HAM national president Suman has convened a high-level party meeting to discuss and decide the next course of action.

Meanwhile, the Bihar BJP core group is holding a meeting in Delhi on June 14 to discuss the party’s strategy to face the challenge of the mega opposition meeting in Patna on June 23. The agenda also includes the plan of taking four smaller regional parties, including the Lok Janshakti Party (Ramvilas) of Chirag Paswan, the Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party of Upendar Kushwaha, the Vikassheel Insaan Party of Mukesh Sahani, and Manjhi’s HAM, into the NDA.

BJP is already facing a difficult task in managing two rival groups of the LJP led by Union minister Pasupati Kumar Paras and Chirag Paswan, both dalit leaders. The entry of Manjhi, another Dalit leader, into the NDA is may create more trouble if Manjhi’s past record of bargaining politics is taken into account.

Manjhi, in mid-April 2023, met senior BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, which created abuzz in political circles as Manjhi had expressed repeated unhappiness over not being given a second berth in the state cabinet by Kumar.

According to reports, BJP has decided to contest 30 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar and divide the remaining ten seats among its five likely allies.

On the other hand, JD-U MLA Ratnesh Sada, who belongs to the Musahar caste, is likely to take oath as a minister in place of Suman on June 16.

It is said in political circles that Manjhi, now in his late 70s and known for walking in and out of one coalition to another during the last decade, failed this time to pressurise the Mahagathbandhan. 

Manjhi took a risk that proved futile as Kumar ignored him. The senior leader was eyeing a bigger share of seats for HAM to contest the next Lok Sabha polls by pressurising the Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan

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