BJP keeps options open in Bihar power struggle

NEW DELHI (TIP): BJP is keeping its options open of supporting Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi in the trust vote he has to face on February 20. “We are keeping our options open,” senior party sources said in Delhi and in Patna, indicating that the party could abstain from voting necessitated by Nitish Kumar’s decision to remove his nominee as chief minister.

The party is expected to take its final stand in the next couple of days. “We will come to a decision within two days,” a senior party source told TOI.

Essentially, the choice will boil down to resolving the tension between the competing considerations of sending a message to dalits in the state by siding with Manjhi and assuaging the anxiety of its core upper caste support base over the militant empowerment politics of the chief minister.

Manjhi got pitch-forked into chief ministership because of Kumar’s resignation from the post in the aftermath of his rout in the Lok Sabha polls last year. However, Manjhi has since projected himself as a leader of dalits in his own right. Protests, which broke out in several district headquarters and ‘welfare hostels’ (meant for SC students), attest to the success of his enterprise in promoting dalit officers in the bureaucracy. It has taken his appeal beyond the Musahar caste that he belongs to and generated sympathy for him among dalits as a whole who account for a big chunk of the electorate.

In fact, Kumar’s political generosity for Manjhi was driven by a desire to carve a political constituency for himself among dalits.

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But while the lure of gaining dalit support in the assembly elections slated for later this year is tempting for the BJP, the party also has to factor in the unease that Manjhi’s aggressive dalit politics appears to have caused among a section of the upper caste saffron constituency. For all its reputation as a laboratory of social justice, dalits in Bihar continue to face hostility. To that extent, Manjhi’s steps like elevation of dalit officers to key positions have had their impact of jolting the equilibrium that OBCs and upper castes have achieved.

BJP sources said the party leadership has to tread cautiously as a single political misstep can cause reverse injury at a crucial time.

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