Amid uncertainties over the continuance of Bihar’s Grand Alliance government, embattled Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad has initiated moves to stitch together an alternative political platform with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and former Bihar chief minister Jiten Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM).
Sources say Prasad’s initiatives at rearranging Bihar’s caste-based political calculus are seen as being aimed at pushing his alliance partner and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar on the backfoot.
Following the recent CBI and IT raids against Prasad and his family members for alleged corruption, there have been speculations that Kumar could even consider breaking ties with the RJD. Kumar’s prompt backing of Ram Nath Kovind as soon as the NDA had announced his name as Presidential candidate also fueled rumours of his possible realignment with the BJP.
And with possibilities of a snap mid-term election not ruled out, Lalu Prasad has moved swiftly to bolster his political position over past few weeks.
Prasad’s son and the state’s deputy chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav who is under pressure from the JD(U) to resign over graft charges, met BSP chief Mayawati last Friday to discuss possibilities of firming up an alternative secular alliance in Bihar and elsewhere.
Sources say Lalu Prasad – who was the first to offer his party’s support to elect Mayawati to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar following her resignation from the Rajya Sabha – has also reached out to Manjhi, a former Kumar protégé and tribal leader.
The RJD camp believes that an alliance with the BSP and HAM had the potential to demolish the Extremely Backward Caste (EBC) vote bank that Kumar has so assiduously built over the years. Although Manjhi’s party won just one seat in 2015, it polled approximately 5% votes. Tribal constitute nearly 9% votes and a tie up with the RJD is likely to place him in a better position. Muslim voters are estimated at 12.5% of the electorate. Prasad is also said to be hopeful that the Congress would support such a formation, senior RJD leaders say.
In past elections, the BSP has remained a marginal player in Bihar, but RJD leaders believe a formal tie-up between the two parties could enable Mayawati to tap into the state’s scheduled caste vote bank – estimated to be around 14% of the electorate.
As peacemaker, Prasad has been on an outreach exercise to bring together the Samajwadi Party and the BSP in UP, while proposing that Mayawati be fielded as the joint Opposition candidate for the by-elections that are likely in Phulpur – the parliamentary seat expected to be vacated by BJP leader and UP deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.