NEW DELHI: Jharkhand's first Chief Minister Babulal Marandi, who is set to be the face of a new political grouping in the state being cobbled by Nitish Kumar to take on BJP, today stressed for a "strong alternative" in national politics and felt that the Bihar Chief Minister fits the bill.
Marandi, who had RSS roots and headed the BJP government in the state after bifurcation of Bihar in 2000 before he finally quit the party for good, launched a hard-hitting attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing the NDA dispensation of "assaulting" the federal structure and "fanning" communalism.
"A strong alternative is needed in the country. Nitish Kumar could be a better option at the Centre," he said in an interview to PTI, adding that the Bihar Chief Minister has "proven his administrative capability" and has "acceptability in the whole country".
The remarks by the tribal leader come at a time when attempts are on to merge Nitish Kumar's JD (U), Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal, Marandi's Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajtantrik) and Kamal Morarka's Samajwadi Janata Party into one larger entity in Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Nitish Kumar, who in alliance with Lalu Prasad's RJD handed over a crushing defeat to the BJP-led NDA in Bihar, plans to widen his party's footprint on national politics.
He took over as JD(U) President on Sunday replacing incumbent Sharad Yadav amid a buzz that he could be eying national politics and could be a fulcrum of opposition unity during 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Jharkhand, which was earlier part of Bihar, has substantial population of Kurmi Mahatos, a community represented by Nitish Kumar in Bihar.
Lalu Prasad's RJD was ruling the undivided Bihar, when Jharkhand with dominant BJP influence was carved out of it. Ever since its creation, the state has seen political instability.
Marandi belongs to the dominant Santhal tribal group and the coming together of both leaders along with a probable consolidation of Muslim votes could mark realignment of political forces in Jharkhand, where the BJP is controlling the reins of power now.
Marandi never turned back to BJP after leaving the party once, though there were speculations regarding the same umpteen times.
Around 40.5 per cent of Jharkhand population belongs to OBC of which almost 15 per cent are Kurmis. Tribal Santhals constitute a sizeable number among the various tribal groups in the state. BJP's Chief Minister Raghubar Das belongs to Vaishya community, an OBC.
The JD(U) has pockets of influence in Jharkhand and was part of the first government headed by Marandi. Nitish Kumar has already held rounds of talks with Marandi.
"Marandi will be our face in Jharkhand. It's time our party goes beyond Bihar," a JD(U) functionary said speaking on the condition of anonymity. Asked about the possible consolidation of OBC-tribals in Jharkhand under the proposed alliance, Marandi said he never believed in caste politics but admitted the impact of their coming together will definitely be good.
Training his guns on Modi, Marandi alleged, "Ever since Modi became the Prime Minister of the country, there have been repeated assaults on the federal structure of the country. The manner in which MLAs from other parties are being made to defect is a matter of concern. They (BJP) had started it from Jharkhand itself."
"Before elections they tried to poach MLAs of JVM (P). Again after elections, six MLAs of JVM (P) were made to defect and join the BJP. BJP had only 36 MLAs and with the six MLAs of AJSU, they just managed the majority in the 81-member House. Then they got the six more MLAs of JVM (P)."
Seeing a pattern behind it, the JVM (P) chief, said, "The BJP did it in Assam, made a similar attempt in Bihar. The attacks on federal structure are continuing. The effort is to finish all so that only one survives."
The BJP had last year inducted six Jharkhand legislators, lured from Marandi's party at the Jharkhand Bhavan in Delhi in the presence of chief minister Raghubar Das. Marandi, whose party had a total of only eight MLAs in the Assembly, had also complained in this regard to the Governor.
In the last Assembly, BJP and JMM had 18 MLAs each. Congress had 14 and JVM-P 11.
In this assembly, the BJP now has 42 MLAs, AAJSU-06, JMM 19, Congress-08 and Others-06.
Attacking the Modi government on policy front, Marandi alleged that while it talks about the poor, the villagers and the farmers, it "works only for the corporates" and cited that despite massive protests by people the government brought ordinance thrice to change the 2013 land law.
"Attempts are on to destroy communal harmony. Within 15 months of the BJP government, there are 55 incidents of communal violence in Jharkhand alone. Two cattle traders were hanged to death. A perceptible change has come
"In a such a scenario, a strong option is needed in the country. Nitish Kumar could be a better option at the Centre. Next Lok Sabha elections are to be held in 2019 but for that we have to start preparations," he said explaining the reason behind the plans to merge the four parties into one entity.
Praising the Bihar Chief Minister, Marandi said that Kumar has "proven his administrative capability" by ensuring "double digit growth of a backward state like Bihar".
"Besides, he has acceptability in the whole country. Nitish can be a strong option," he said. Planning to widen its footprint on national politics, JD(U) has decided to go for a change of election symbol to reach out to people more effectively and will soon approach Election Commission in this regard.
JD(U) is already looking for a new election symbol. It is of the view that its existing 'arrow' election symbol is "confusing" voters. JD(U)'s symbol arrow bears resemblance to the bow and arrow symbol of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and Shiv Sena.
With Kumar becoming the President of the JD(U) replacing Sharad Yadav recently, the new merger plan is set to get a fillip.
When asked whether the JVM (P) has any specific demands as parties plan to merge, he said everything will be decided together.
"It will be a new party with a new name, new flag and new election symbol. All of us will decide it together. We will do what is acceptable to all. Discussions are on in this regard. The rest will be decided later," he said.
The merger talks are happening at a time when Marandi's party is also in wilderness. Out of BJP, the JVM (P) fought elections in alliance with Congress only to fall apart later. Congress and RJD later formed an alliance government headed by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha's Hemant Soren.
Even during the last assembly polls, there was an attempt to cobble up an alliance of Congress, JVM (P), JMM, JD(U) and RJD but it failed to take off over differences on the issue of the declaration of the Chief Ministerial candidate of the alliance for which both JMM and JVM (P) showed interest.
Marandi lost both Assembly seats he contested - Giridih and Dhanwar - in 2014 Assembly polls.
However, Marandi downplays questions about the impact of the merger on next assembly polls in his state.
"Next assembly election is after Lok Sabha polls. New party has to be formed. For that talks need to be held even within party level. It will take some time. But if we come together, the BJP will find the going tough in Jharkhand," he says.
The understanding in the non-BJP camp is that Marandi, who belongs to Santhal tribe has a clean image and his leadership could emerge at a time when JMM chief Shibu Soren belonging to the same tribal community is aging.
On the possible coming together of Congress and RJD in future elections in the state, Marandi only said that unity will be helpful in rooting out the BJP there.