The BJP’s allies seem to be suffering from illusions of grandeur in Bihar. In the case of former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, his ambition is certainly not matched by his talent to wean Mahadalits other than his own caste or Extremely Backward Communities, away from the Janata Alliance.

This is true even in his home ground in Makhdumpur, Jehanabad Parliamentary segment, from where he was elected on a Janata Dal (United) ticket in the 2010 assembly elections.

Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) Chief Upendra Kushwaha is on record demanding 67 seats out of the total 243, and Jitan Ram Manjhi claims he is a bigger leader among Dalits than Ram Vilas Paswan.

But scout around for his supporters in the Jehanabad-Makhadumpur belt and it seems as if it is the BJP holding him by the hand, while his own flock drifts away.

Upper caste support

Upper caste voters in the villages of Sagarpur, Nirpur, Nangadh, Bhani Bigha, Kayamgunj and Kanchnaib that BusinessLine surveyed, were unequivocal in their support of “anyone that the Prime Minister chooses to field” from their constituency.

The BJP’s social support base among the Brahmins, Bhumihars, Banias, Thakurs and Kayasthas seems to be more or less intact. In the case of Mahadalit and EBC voters, a clear division was seen.

While the Manjhis had clearly been affronted by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s bid to first install Jitan Ram Manjhi in his stead and dislodge him a few months later, others were not impressed. In fact, in at least three villages in a row – Kanchnaib, Bhani Bigha and Kayamgunj – not a single voter among the EBC and Dalit communities such as Kushwahas, Kumhars, Mallahs or Das expressed any wish to support Manjhi.

“The only people who support Manjhi around here are the upper castes,” said Jayant Kumar Kumhar in Kanchnaib.

Surat Das and Shanti Devi in Sagarpur village, also part of Manjhi’s constituency, cheered for Nitish Kumar. “Do you see these fields here? We have grown paddy and it has not rained this much. But because Nitish Kumar built us this canal, our crop is still standing,” said Surat Das, a Dalit.

Shanti Devi’s reasons for backing Kumar are related to the tangible difference he is credited to have made in the law and order situation. Jehanabad was a site for caste wars in the 1990’s between the Bhumihar and Thakur militia Ranvir Sena, and the Maoists, who mostly had support among the Dalits and EBCs.

The Maoists’ influence has considerably reduced and the Ranvir Sena has been disbanded. Even the presence of RLSP leader Kushwaha seems to offer little incentives, as people did not have kind words for him as well.

The scene changes dramatically at the Makhdumpur market where shopkeepers enthusiastically support the BJP and Manjhi. “Manjhi will win because we all support the BJP,” said Kamlesh Kumar. Clearly, Manjhi has a fight on his hands. He won this assembly segment by a margin of 5,085 votes by getting 38,463 votes. His nearest rival, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)’s Dharamraj Paswan was not far behind with 33,378 votes.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the seat was won by Arun Kumar of RLSP who got 50,907 votes to 47,087 polled by the RJD’s Surendra Prasad Yadav.

social-fb COMMENT NOW