Jiten Ram Manji, the former Chief Minister of Bihar, is one of the prominent figures in the ensuing Bihar elections. After being suspended from Janata Dal (United), this former Chief Minister, along with his supporters floated a new party Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM).
Manjhi joined the BJP led National Democratic Alliance and is contesting the elections on 20 seats. BJP is betting big on Manjhi to swing the Mahadalit votebank from Nitish led Janata alliance into NDA fold. Mahadalits account for 10% of Bihar population and could influence the outcome in not only the 40 seats reserved for SC/ST category but also approximately 40 other seats, meaning they have significant influence in one-third of the seats. This is precisely the reason why BJP roped in Manjhi. 42% Mahadalits voted for NDA in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Manjhi himself belongs to the musahar sub-caste which accounts for 15% of Mahadalit population and 1.5% of total population of the state.
NDA, which was lagging by approx. 5% vote share compared to Maha Gathbandhan in LS polls (39% vs 45%), strategy is to garner 20%-30% additional votes from Mahadalits, and hence add 2%-3% to their overall vote share. So Manjhi’s success is directly linked to BJP led NDA’s success. HAM has fielded 7 sitting MLAs of JDU out of 20 seats allotted to him.
Nitish created the Mahadalit category in 2009 to create a vote bank which was earlier with Lalu during 1990-2000 and then had drifted to Mayawati’s BSP and Paswan’s LJP. Nitish set up a commission for the welfare of certain Dalit castes that are socially and educationally more backward than others. Initially 18/22 sub-castes of Dalits were included in the Mahadalit category leaving out Dhobi, Chamar, Pasi and Paswans. Later everybody was included under the Mahdalit category leaving only Paswans under the Dalit category.
Chamar and Musahars are the major sub-castes accounting for 69% of total Mahadalit population of approx. 90 lakhs. Gaya has the highest Mahadalit population (8.3 lakhs) followed by Patna and Nawada. Mahadalits population in these ten districts is more than 10% (their average population in the state).
Main Mahadalit Sub-Castes
After Manjhi became CM, he also passed orders for inclusion of Paswans in Mahadalit category. When Nitish became CM after removal of Manjhi, he reversed some of the decisions taken by Manjhi except for this one. So today all Dalits are classified as Mahadalits in Bihar.
Dalits / Mahadalits voted in large numbers (44%) in favour of BJP led NDA in 1999 LS polls to install Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM. This vote share steadily declined to 18% by 2005 state polls when Paswan emerged as the champion of this community in Bihar. After installation of NDA (BJP+JDU) govt. in Bihar and creation of Mahadalit category this vote share increased to 31% levels in 2010 state polls. In 2014 Lok Sabha, BJP got 42% of Dalits / Mahadalits votes.
Lalu got 39% dalits / mahadalits votes in 1999, which increased to 42% in 2004 LS polls (in alliance with Paswan). This declined to 20% when Paswan fought with Left Front and not RJD in 2005 state polls. In 2010 it recovered to 29% when Paswan again joined Lalu alliance. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Lalu’s party got only 10% of dalits / mahadalits votes. JDU got 20% of the community votes making it 30% for Janata alliance.
Dalits & Mahadalits voting pattern across polls
1999-2010: All numbers for RJD and NDA (BJP+JDU). 2014 LS no. of RJD includes JDU, while NDA no. is of BJP and allies but excluding JDU.
Ram Vilas Paswan has emerged as the undisputed leader of Pasi & Paswan (Dusadh) community (6% of population) and has proved that he can transfer votes of this sub-caste to whichever alliance he ties up with. LJP vote share has consistently been 6.5%+ and he has managed to get for himself and allies 50%-70% of Pasi / Dusadh community votes.
|LJP Vote Share||8.2%||11.1%||6.5%||6.7%||6.5%|
|Alliance With||RJD + Cong||Left||RJD||RJD||BJP|
|Pasi / Paswan votes||70%||47%||50%||55%||60%|
In 2014, while 60% Paswan’s voted for NDA, only 33% of Mahadalits (minus Chamar and Pasi) and 34% of Chamars voted for it. This is the gap which NDA expects to fill through Manjhi. A 60% voting of the Mahadalit community (excluding Paswans) would mean an additional 3% vote share addition to NDA. This is key to bridge the 5% gap of LS polls. Not only this, it also could lead to a minimum 0.25%-0.75% decline in vote share of Janata alliance even if you assume all addition to NDA votes from Mahadalits belongs to “Others”.
|Mahadalit (minus Chamar & Pasi)||33%||45%|
|Pasi & Paswan||60%||15%|
Source: Indian Express Article
Can Manjhi achieve this feat for NDA?
Things which may go in his favour:
• Nitish blunder of making him CM has helped him to establish as a face of Mahadalits in Bihar.
• BJP has provided him Z category security, again symbolic of giving importance to the community leader.
• Has fielded 7 sitting MLAs in elections.
• Has access to BJP machinery, infrastructure and resources.
Things which may go against him:
• Yet to prove himself as the undisputed leader of Mahadalits.
• In 12 out of 20 seats his party is contesting, he is locked in a tough fight with erstwhile party JDU. Manjhi himself is fighting a tough battle against another popular Mahadalit leader Uday Narayan Chaudhary (Speaker).
• New party means his voters may not recognize his symbol (as Dr. Pravin Patil of 5Forty3 fame puts it). More so, some may still believe he is in JDU and vote for Nitish instead.
• Tussle of one-upmanship with Ram Vilas Paswan.
Jiten Manjhi fought the Lok Sabha polls on JDU ticket from Gaya town. Gaya has the highest population of SC-ST in Bihar (30%). He finished 3rd with 16.3% vote share amongst the top 3 candidates contesting who all had Manjhi surnames.
Has BJP banked too much on Manjhi? If he fails, BJP’s goal of forming govt. in Bihar is not possible. Will he become the mountain man for BJP in Bihar? Only time will tell….
LS: Lok Sabha Polls, AE: Assembly Elections