Nitish feels the heat, reaches out to Muslim and Dalit voters

Dheeraj Kumar
Saturday, 9 June 2018

The battle lines for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have yet to be clearly drawn but changes in contours of Bihar politics are already in full swing, making the future electoral scenario more intense. Certain developments are remarkable. 

The battle lines for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have yet to be clearly drawn but changes in contours of Bihar politics are already in full swing, making the future electoral scenario more intense. Certain developments are remarkable. 

Emergence of Leader of Opposition in Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav as a formidable force and imprisonment of RJD Chief Lalu Prasad and his subsequent health complications on one side and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar`s focus on keeping his image of a secular and socialist leader intact on the other side have set the stage. The growing proximity between Nitish and LJP Chief and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan is another important development, largely considered a ploy to keep an assertive BJP under check.

Special status to Bihar is another issue, which is likely to become a bone of contention between the Centre and the state government in weeks or months to come. Nitish already made it clear he has not given up the demand for special status to Bihar.

The pressure has only grown on him ever since Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party pulled out from NDA on the issue of special status to Andhra Pradesh. Leaving behind the immediate shock of losing power at a young age, Tejashwi has started emerging from the shadow of his father Lalu. But at the same time, he is also under constant attack particularly by Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi exposing his ‘benami properties’ once again after a lull.
But all these allegations have not stopped Tejashwi from launching a counter-attack and he recently used some very offensive words for Modi.

RJD`s top leadership is also not leaving anything to chance when it comes to exploiting situations arising due to imprisonment of Lalu Yadav to its advantage by making it an emotive issue.

RJD apparently has been successful in consolidating its Muslim-Yadav (MY) votebank further after Nitish Kumar led JD (U) had broken the grand alliance for forming NDA government in the state.

On the other hand, Kumar has intensified his efforts to reach out to all sections of society by picking up social issues like dowry and child marriage. His government has already launched a drive against these social issues after enforcing prohibition in April, 2016.

In another major step, Nitish has written a 3-page letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reviving his demand for Bharat Ratna to veteran socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia for his vital contribution in the freedom struggle and national politics.

Nitish, by doing so, wants to shore up his image of a socialist leader even in the company of BJP, often accused of promoting interests of big corporate houses.

Nitish faced another challenge when former state Assembly speaker and senior JD (U) leader Uday Narayan Chaudhary, a prominent Dalit leader, deserted the party by alleging that Dalits are being exploited and victimised in the Nitish government.

Chaudhary made an announcement of his departure from the party when JD (U)’s senior partner BJP was already facing flak from Opposition parties following ‘dilution’ of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court. The opposition parties nonchalantly argue that the Modi government did not argue its case strongly before the apex court. Chaudhary was defeated by another prominent Dalit leader and former chief minister Jeetan Ram Manjhi of HAM in the last state assembly elections in 2015 from Imamganj constituency in Gaya district, but it does not undermine his stature as an influential Dalit leader.

It is not for the first time when JD (U) lost a prominent Dalit leader as the party had sacked another influential Dalit leader Jeetan Ram Manjhi as the state chief minister in 2015. Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha, which was an ally of NDA before it joined the RJD-led grand alliance, has been consistently accusing the Nitish government of putting Dalits behind bars in mind boggling numbers in the name of prohibition.

Nitish is also attempting to woo all Dalits as the Paswans (Dusadh community), who were excluded from the Mahadalit category created before the 2010 Assembly polls, has now been included into the Mahadalit grouping.

Nitish is also trying hard to win back the confidence of Muslims, who were largely ‘disillusioned’ after Kumar joined hands with the BJP to form a new government in the state. 

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