Why he is making overtures to Manjhi
Mantosh Sharma | June 1, 2015
Lalu Yadav never ceases to surprise his opponents, supporters, alliance partners and political analysts with his maverick political actions. When everyone took him for granted as a partner in Janata Parivar, his recent overture to include Jitan Ram Manjhi, former Bihar CM and adversary of Nitish Kumar, has baffled JD(U), surprised the BJP and confused Manjhi supporters. Lalu Yadav projects himself as a light, jovial and colourful politician but his political maneuvers are an intriguing subject for observers and warning signs for adversaries.
On the surface this overture towards Manjhi is seen as a ploy for hard bargaining over Vidhan Sabha seats with JD(U). In the recent demand, senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh asked for 145 seats out of 243 seats. This was rebutted by Nitish who said: “Why just 145, why not 243?” Everyone was expecting this to happen between RJD and JD(U) some day, and major disagreement is about basing their party strengths from 2014 Lok Sabha elections or 2010 Vidhan Sabha polls. This could be one of the many reasons for these overtures. However, I think there is more than what meets the eye.
After Lok Sabha elections in 2014, BJP is continuously denting the Yadav base in Bihar. The party brought Rajya Sabha MP Bhupendra Yadav from Rajasthan as BJP Bihar in-charge. It also appointed Ram Kripal Yadav, MP and ex-confidant of Lalu from Patna, as a union minister. BJP’s Nand Kishore Yadav is the leader of opposition in Bihar. Others like Nityanand Rai, Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav and Om Prakash Yadav have significant clout in their own turfs. For example, Siwan MP Om Prakash Yadav won his election by defeating Hena Shahab, wife of four-time MP Mohammad Sahabuddin, and has effectively neutralised 20 years of MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination in that region.
Each of the above names is influencing the Lalu hegemony on MY equation. BJP’s final nail in weakening the MY combination is through the proxy fight between Pappu Yadav and Lalu Yadav. “I stood by Lalu Prasad in the time of need and helped him reach power despite the fact that he always humiliated me,” said Pappu Yadav at a rally in Madhepura. Pappu Yadav, who was expelled from RJD, was a strong man of Lalu all along the RJD’s journey. He was a well groomed local Yadav satrap among many others in Bihar and helped RJD deliver Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha seats from that region in last two decades. Lalu Yadav in a statement to the media said, "What has changed you people that till yesterday you used to call him (Pappu Yadav) a history-sheeter but are today advocating his cause?"
When Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav announced that the Janata Party effort is on hold until Bihar elections, Lalu Yadav had more to lose. He was the most important beneficiary of the merger. Lalu Yadav is always a proponent of a grand alliance against BJP. He has used this tactic since the Advani days to counter BJP. He believes in perception politics and that a grand alliance makes you look bigger than what you actually are. Secondly, this merger could have helped in funding for the Bihar election. Thirdly, this was an opportunity to induct the Congress, which could have helped the party in Uttar Pradesh elections scheduled two years later. It is noteworthy that Sonia Gandhi and Lalu Yadav have a trusted political relationship. Lastly but not the least, the Janata Parivar should have helped across-the-state Yadav alliance.
Lalu (many consider him the master of social engineering) has also understood that Nitish’s political strength is weakening each day. Core strength of Nitish was from the Luv-Kush alliance, mahadalit with upper caste anti-Lalu votes and marginal Muslim support. Majority of Muslim votes will go to the stronger coalition which will be in position to challenge BJP. Upper castes (Brahmin, Rajput, Kayastha and Bhumihar) Hindu votes which constitute 15 to 20 percent of votes in Bihar are inclined towards BJP. Nitish is trying to attract this segment by offering largesse and sops in terms of ministerial berths and scholarships for economically poor segments.
BJP has dented Nitish’s Luv-Kush combination by forming an alliance with Rashtriya Lok Samta party. Upendra Kushwaha, an MP, is a leader of Raashtriya Lok Samta party and currently his party has three MPs from Bihar. He is able to carve out his niche, by aligning Kushwaha votes with others. Nitish’s image also got dented with his decision to align with Lalu Yadav. This has created doubts within new millennial voters about Nitish’s anti-corruption and growth stance.
Last but not the least, in the past decade a lot of animosity and anti-Nitish feelings have been persisting in the Yadavs. They perceive the Nitish government as revengeful and see speedy trials in a lot of criminal cases in that light. Similarly, there is apprehension among Kurmi voters about Yadavs, and they are apprehensive about the return of the Lalu raj. Even though two leaders have decided to fight elections together, their respective base is still in contradiction and suspicious of each other.
On the other hand, Lalu Yadav has clearly understood the BJP strategy for Bihar elections. Narendra Modi, like in the Lok Sabha polls, will keep morale high in his action and speeches in Bihar. He has quoted poet Dinkar, “You cannot rule with the help of one or two castes. You need support of all. If you do not rise above caste, Bihar's public life will decay.” On the other hand, BJP is making caste-based alliances with Upendra Kushwaha and Ram Vilas Paswan. BJP is giving support to Pappu Yadav and admitting people with questionable credentials. This is what Lalu had been doing all along.
Lalu Yadav has understood that a grand alliance helps create alternative choices to voters against national parties. When put up against BJP, it helps corner minority votes in polarised elections. In the absence of growth politics and his limitation to play aspirational politics, he meticulously uses these alliances to cover the gaps. This is another reason of his overtures towards Manjhi.
In the absence of stronger allies and political weakening of Nitish, BJP’s encroachment in Yadav and OBC votes, upper caste inclination towards BJP, and loss of traditional scheduled caste ally Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu has no choice but to explore alliances beyond Nitish. There is no surprise if Lalu breaks completely with Nitish and forms an alliance with Manjhi and Congress. Mahadalit and Congress voters may bring more than what an alliance with Nitish can bring to the table.
Politics is always a story of possibilities and Lalu Yadav knows what it means in Bihar. Overtures to Manjhi are just another masterstroke of the ‘master politician’.
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