Patna, Sep 8: Cracks surfaced in the BJP-led NDA camp ahead of Bihar polls with a war of words brewing between two of its Dalit leaders — Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) (Secular) founder Jitan Ram Manjhi and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan — days after the rival grand secular alliance was hit by the exit of Samajwadi Party. Former chief minister Manjhi today turned his guns on Paswan as he claimed that the LJP leader had insulted him by telling a news channel that “he (Manjhi) was on trial in NDA”.

Manjhi said he was offended by the purported remark as he has been in active politics since 1970s and has served as an MLA, minister in the state Cabinet and also chief minister for around nine months in the current JD-U government. Hitting out at Paswan, Manjhi questioned the former’s status as “a leader of Dalits” and accused him of practising “family-centric politics” (Also Read: Bihar Assembly Elections 2015: Unsure of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar remaining together till Bihar polls, says Chirag Paswan)

“How could he (Paswan) claim to be a national leader of Dalits when he did not utter a word on several issues plaguing the Scheduled Castes (SC). He didn’t even protest when his own castes of Paswan and Dusadh were not included among ‘mahadalits’ by the Nitish Kumar government,” Manjhi told reporters. Flanked by HAM leaders Nitish Mishra, Ajit Singh, Poonam Devi and others, Manjhi said it was him who had included the Paswan and Dusadh castes among ‘mahadalits’ and asserted that, considering that achievement, Union Minister Paswan could not be regarded as a leader of even his own caste.

Taking a dig at Paswan, Manjhi further said he was ready to accept the LJP chief as an “international leader if only he could separate himself from the family-centric politics he practices”. “I am telling this with due respect that Paswan has been unable to raise himself and his party above his son and brothers. His entire politics revolves around them,” added Manjhi.

BJP, which had almost swept Bihar in the Lok Sabha polls in alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP, is hoping to repeat its performance in the Assembly polls. The party has said that seat-sharing talks for the upcoming state polls would be concluded amicably among the NDA allies — BJP, LJP, RLSP and Hindustani Awam Morcha.

Samajwadi Party had recently walked out of the grand alliance in Bihar saying it had felt “humiliated” after not being consulted by the larger partners in the state like RJD and JD-U over seat sharing for the polls later this year”I and Paswan both spoke at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies at Muzaffarpur and Gaya. We were present at his Bhagalpur rally as well. The applause that I got was superseded by only one leader and that was Modi. This points towards the leader who has the support of the public. What can be done if Paswan is unable to understand this,” added Manjhi.

The former chief minister said Paswan should thank BJP and Modi for the victory of his party candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Reacting to queries about Paswan allegedly pressuring the NDA leadership to not give tickets to four heavyweight leaders of HAM, Manjhi said talks on seat-sharing were going on in the alliance and, hence, it would not be fair to say anything in this regard.
“But we have put forth our condition that there would be no compromise on tickets to 13 sitting MLAs who are with HAM. This will also adhere to the formula of sitting MLAs getting tickets for the upcoming polls,” he said.

Keeping up his attack on Paswan, Manjhi said that a party that has not got a single MLA in the state was demanding 75 seats to contest.
“Going by that yardstick, we have 13 MLAs and should also get seats accordingly to contest,” he added. However, Manjhi categorically stated that he was not a chief ministerial candidate for Bihar elections and had already “conveyed this to Modi”.

But BJP and NDA will suffer if his party is not given adequate representation in the polls, he cautioned. Paswan, when contacted by PTI, shied away from commenting on Manjhi’s attack, while his son Chirag, an MP from the Jamui seat in the state, said it was not the right time to comment on the issue.

“We are unable to understand the perspective or reasons behind what Manjhi has said, so it would not be right to comment on it.
“Our personal and political relations with him are very good and he is playing an important role in NDA by strengthening it. We wish we all contest the polls together,” Chirag said.