PATNA: Ending months of speculation, former Bihar chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi on Wednesday quit the state’s ruling NDA to join the Opposition RJD-led grand alliance, signalling changes in the state’s fluid politics ahead of the polls.
The decision came after the 73-year-old Dalit leader held an hour-long meeting with jailed RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s two sons – Bihar Opposition leader Tejaswi Yadav and former health minister Tej Pratap Yadav. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s close aide and MLC Bhola Yadav had offered an open invitation to Manjhi to join the grand alliance on Tuesday.
“We have reached a decision. I am quitting NDA and joining the grand alliance,” Manjhi told reporters after holding talks with Tejaswi and Tej Pratap.
The development left Bihar’s ruling NDA parties – JD(U), BJP, RLSP and LJP – in shock and disbelief. Senior BJP leader and road construction minister Nand Kishore Yadav mounted a damage-control exercise, saying: “There is no rift in NDA. We will talk with Manjhi. He is a respected leader of NDA”.
As news about the closed-door meeting between Manjhi and the two young Yadav brothers emerged, Manjhi reportedly received calls from both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah, who tried to persuade him to stay with NDA. The soft-spoken Manjhi, however, clearly told them that he would not change his mind, said a HAM leader.
Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi of BJP, who presented the state budget in the Assembly a day ago, met senior leaders of the party in New Delhi after Manjhi’s defection to discuss the state’s changing political situation.
Speculation about Manjhi switching sides had started when HAM state president and former minister Brishen Patel had met RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav in Ranchi jail last month. The RJD chief is in jail since December 23 last after his conviction in fodder scam cases.
“This development clearly reflects Manjhi’s anger at the rising Manuvadi tendencies in NDA. It is a very welcome decision,” said Bhola Yadav.
Manjhi, who is the national president of HAM and happens to be its only MLA in Bihar, had met frequent disappointments from the BJP and JD(U) leadership in recent months. His desire for an NDA ticket to a HAM leader for Jehanabad Assembly seat in the upcoming bypoll was brushed aside. BJP had earlier snubbed his wish for a gubernatorial position.
Manjhi served as Bihar CM between May 20, 2014 and February 20, 2015 after JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar stepped down following his party’s rout in the Lok Sabha polls and anointed him in the post. Manjhi was then forced to leave the post to allow Kumar to occupy it again.