Manjhi fast becoming a liability for Nitish

Party, allies find Bihar CM causing fast erosion of goodwill

Manjhi fast becoming a liability for Nitish

 Nearly five months ago when Nitish Kumar voluntarily stepped down as chief minister of Bihar owning moral responsibility for the debacle in the Lok Sabha polls, he hand-picked ministerial colleague Jitan Ram Manjhi as his successor.

Manjhi was not his closest aide. Neither was he the senior-most member in the Cabinet, nor was he the most visible face of the government or the party. A turncoat, who dumped the Congress to join the RJD and then the JD (U), Manjhi’s only qualifying factor was his humble background.

A Mahadalit leader from Mushar community (the poorest among Dalits), Manjhi was a non-controversial and pliable leader, who Nitish thought would become the de jure chief minister till he was on self-imposed exile. 

More than four months down the line, the JD (U) leaders in private and the RJD-Congress leaders in public have started to admit that it would be suicidal to go for the 2015 Assembly polls with Manjhi at the helm. 

“Have you ever seen a chief minister who is critical of his officers, doctors, engineers and above all, his party leadership,” a senior Congress leader, who was earlier president of the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee told Deccan Herald. Even the RJD is not comfortable with his style of functioning, particularly in the wake of the stampede last week.

 “Normally, passengers ask the driver to steer the vehicle properly. But in this case, the chief minister himself is admitting that the vehicle is not being driven properly,” said former Union minister and senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, in an oblique reference to how governance in the state had collapsed completely. 

“When in November 2012, a stampede took place, Nitish as chief minister swung into action and personally monitored the relief and rescue operation. But on October 3, when a stampede took place near Gandhi Maidan, Manjhi preferred to go to his ancestral village in Gaya despite being informed about the tragedy. This shows the difference of approach in Nitish’s and Manjhi’s style of functioning,” averred a Congress leader.

JD (U) leaders in public defend the chief minister but they, too, are aware of the fast erosion of the party’s goodwill among the people following the collapse of law and order, a corrupt regime and an equally paralysed administration in Bihar. 

“We are in a Catch-22 situation. If we remove a Mahadalit as chief minister, we run the risk of losing our base among the poor. If we continue with him, then more embarrassment and maladministration is in store. In that case, defending Manjhi will become an onerous task,” opined a ministerial colleague of Manjhi, refusing to be identified.

Neither the RJD nor the Congress–the two new-found allies of the JD (U)–are happy with the continuation of Manjhi as chief minister, but are not willing to rock the boat because they want to keep their common foe, the BJP, at bay.

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