Dalit identity politics is taking centre stage in poll-bound Bihar and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seems to be the battleground to decide which party holds sway over the community, considered a formidable vote bank in the state.
Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) came out with a full-page advertisement on Friday, with a stinging tagline, “Wo lad rahe hain hum par raaj karne ke liye, aur hum lad rahe hain Bihar par naaz karne ke liye’ (They are fighting to rule us, we are fighting for Bihar’s pride).
Chirag Paswan is also giving out a call “Aao Banayein naya Bihar, yuva Bihar; chalo chalen Yuva Bihari ke saath’ (Let’s build a new Bihar, a young Bihar; let’s move with the young Bihar). Chirag identifies himself as a ‘Yuva Bihari’, and his twitter account also carries the name ‘Yuva Bihari Chirag Paswan’.
The slogans, deemed to be an attack on chief minister Nitish Kumar, were repulsed by JD (U)’s newfound ally in local Dalit icon and former chief minister, HAM-S chief Jitan Ram Manjhi, who said his party was ready to take on Chirag’s party head on if it chose to field candidates against JD (U).
“Chirag says wherever there will be a JD (U) candidate, LJP will field its candidate. If this is so, my party HAM-S will field candidates against the LJP in the assembly elections. In the NDA, if all the constituents fight together, it will be good for the state and the country,” said Manjhi, adding he was there to strengthen Nitish Kumar, who has been under continuous attack from LJP, an NDA constituent at the Centre.
Manjhi, whose decision to join forces with Nitish Kumar is being seen as a tactical ploy to neutralize Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP—attacked Paswan, alleging he did nothing for the Dalits despite doing Dalit politics for decades.
In the evening, Manjhi also attended the meeting of the state-level vigilance and monitoring committee, set up as part of the SC,ST (prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1955, in which chief minister ordered that rules be made for giving a job to the kin of a SC/ST person, who gets killed.
Manjhi was quick to welcome the move within minutes and sought that the same be implemented in other states too.
Dalits, constituting nearly 18% of the state population, are very significant in Bihar politics these days due to their growing assertion, and the face-off between Manjhi and Paswan is for establishing credentials to lead the community.
Former Bihar minister and Dalit leader Shyam Razak, who recently switched over to the RJD, however, accused Nitish Kumar of opportunistic wooing of Dalits before the polls.
“So many Dalits got killed and he has woken up now on the eve of elections. Dalits are also watching. As far as infighting within the NDA is concerned, it is their internal matter,” he added.
BJP MLC and former union minister Sanjay Paswan termed the Manjhi-Chirag face-off, ‘a generational issue’. “It (fight) is not between Manjhi and Ram Vilas Paswan. Bihar is itself standing on the threshold of generational shift and that may give an edge to Chirag, who wants to shape his politics in a new way, but NDA will be the ultimate gainer,” he added.