Nitish Counters Yadav Through Manjhi
In battle within JD(U), Nitish scores the winning points by playing a well-calculated move to counter Sharad Yadav’s dominance in the party through selection of Jitan Ram Manjhi as the new Bihar Chief Minister
On Friday, as leads from counting of votes indicated that Nitish Kumar’s game plan to break away from the BJP had backfired, he called up Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav and said he would like to step down as Bihar’s chief minister. But what came as a surprise was the alacrity with which Yadav endorsed Kumar’s decision to step down owning up the moral responsibility for the party’s drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls. “You should quit,” the party chairman told Kumar, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The surprise was because Yadav himself had lost from his traditional Madhepura seat. The candidates he had fielded also lost. The bafflement turned into serious suspicion when Yadav made public statements that a new leader would be chosen to replace Kumar de- spite an overwhelming number of JD(U) leaders deciding to stick with Kumar. Some JD(U) leaders were also piqued by the fact that Yadav was endorsing the idea of a tie-up with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal for cornering the BJP, a view looked at with much suspicion by the legislators, who felt that it was intended to marginalise Kumar in the long run. By the time Yadav landed in Patna, Kumar too started making counter moves. Yadav was accorded a hostile reception by party workers and a minister was shoved and pushed around when they were entering the official residence of the chief minister for attending the crucial JD(U) legislature party meeting. During the meeting, Yadav was heckled by some legislators and ministers who even argued that the party chief also needed to take moral responsibility for the dismal performance. It was clear that the party legislators with few exceptions were solidly behind Kumar and wanted him to continue as the chief minister despite strong doubts about him taking back his resignation at the cost of credibility.
The Yadav camp, meanwhile, kept on pressure with two MLAs, Anirudh Yadav and Rabindra Rai, openly advocating for a change in leadership besides asserting that Yadav was not in minority within the party, something which further enraged an overwhelming number of party leaders.
When it became clear that Kumar will not take back his resignation, the legislators made sure that they would not let Yadav have a say in the selection of the new leader. The JD(U) legislature party, which again met on May 19, passed a unanimous resolution authorising Kumar to choose his successor.
Manjhi represents the most vulnerable lot among the Dalits
The fact that Kumar settled for Jitan Ram Manjhi seemed to be a very well-calculated move. Manjhi represented the most vulnerable lot among the Dalits, and Yadav had no option but to go with Kumar’s decision. Yadav had to go through the motions of the party’s decision that he was with Kumar on the selection of the new chief minister. However, his facial expression was that of complete giveaway; he had badly lost the game he had started with Kumar. And Kumar, despite the heavy beating in the Bihar battle in the Lok Sabha polls, achieved three things by the time the whole resignation episode ended. He had established – despite the loss – he was still the undisputed leader of the party. Yadav who is not from Bihar remains an outsider despite seeking to convert Bihar into a political turf of his, and, by not taking back his resignation, Kumar has denied his opponents an opportunity to claim that his resignation drama was just a political stunt.