Grand Alliance in turmoil on bypoll day in Bihar

Former Bihar Chief Minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) party president Jitan Ram Manjhi is beats a 'dhol' during Prantiya Musahar-Bhuiya Sammelan in Patna on Sunday. (PTI Photo)

Beset with squabbles since its inception, the opposition Grand Alliance in Bihar appeared to remain adrift on Monday when by-polls were under way in a Lok Sabha seat and five assembly seats, being billed as the "semi-final" ahead of Assembly elections next year.

In two of the five assembly segments - Nathnagar in Bhagalpur and Simri Bakhtiarpur in Madhepura - more than one constituent of the five-party alliance have fielded their respective candidates.

Having failed to defuse the crisis in time, Lalu Prasad's RJD, which leads the pack, on Monday sought to make light of its allies Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), which have fielded their candidates in the two seats.

"Grand Alliance is united. The presence of HAM and VIP candidates has not been taken seriously by anybody. Their candidates may not have been able to withdraw their nominations since it would have demoralized respective cadre", RJD national vice-president Raghuvansh Prasad Singh claimed.

Former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who is the founding president of HAM, reacted indignantly to Singh's comment, saying his remarks were "preposterous".

"I respect him as a senior leader. But his utterances are preposterous. If my candidate or that of Mukesh Sahni (VIP chief) were not serious about the contest, we would not have campaigned so intensively," Majhi said.

Sahni, a former Bollywood set designer who had floated the VIP about a year ago, said, "On one hand, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh keeps talking about the need for unity of opposition parties, and, on the other, he goes on demeaning his alliance partners. Let the results come out. He will learn what is our worth and how strong the RJD is without the support of its allies".

There had been bad blood between the RJD and its junior allies after the Lalu Prasad-led party surreptitiously distributed tickets for four assembly segments, leaving only Kishanganj and Samastipur Lok Sabha seat for the Congress.

Manjhi and Sahni had lambasted RJD heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav for ignoring their wish to contest the by-polls and went on to announce their own candidates for Nathnagar and Simri Bakhtiarpur, while stating that they would be supporting Grand Alliance candidates in the remaining seats.

They also campaigned enthusiastically for each other's candidates and canvassed for the Congress nominee in Samastipur, but stayed away from the campaign in Belhar and Daraundha constituencies, where only the RJD was in the fray.

At their rallies in Nathnagar and Simri Bakhtiarpur, Manjhi and Sahni made repeated attacks on the RJD - particularly Tejashwi Yadav - whom they accused of failure to take alliance partners along.

Yadav refrained from retaliating, but his absence at a rally in Samastipur - ostensibly because of a snag in his helicopter - was seen as an expression of unease over sharing the stage at an election rally with Manjhi and Sahni.

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