Bihar Assembly election 2020: The Mahadalit voters comprise 16% of the state's 10 crore population.
Faced with multiple challenges in the run-up to the Bihar Assembly elections, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejashwi was dealt with a severe blow when prominent Mahadalit face Jitan Ram Manjhi decided to part ways with the Grand Alliance of Bihar. With the exodus of several MLAs – besides Manjhi’s HAM – and alliance partners questioning Tejashwi’s leadership skills, the party has now stepped up its efforts to woo the Mahadalit community which forms a sizable chunk of the RJD’s vote bank.
Hours after Manjhi’s exit from the grand alliance on Thursday, the RJD fielded three senior Mahadalit leaders — Shyam Rajak, Uday Narayan Choudhary and Ramai Ram to counter any narrative that the BJP-JDU would try to build against it. The trio addressed the media in Patna on Thursday wherein they refrained from directly naming Manjhi and attacked Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
The coming together of three leaders from the Mahadalit community on a day when Manjhi left, was seen as a message to HAM chief who himself is a Mahadalit and enjoys a strong base among the Extremely Backward Class (EBC) communities.
The Mahadalit voters comprise 16% of the state’s 10 crore population. In such a situation, the RJD is staring at a possible loss in votes. In the 243-member Legislative Assembly, there are 38 seats reserved for Mahadalits.
Addressing the media, they alleged that atrocities against the Mahadalits in the state have increased in the last 15 years of Nitish Kumar’s rule. They said that atrocities have increased from 7% in 2015 to 17% in 2020.
“The state ranked third so far atrocities against the Mahadaits are concerned,” the RJD leaders said while citing the National Commission for SC/ST figures.
Interestingly, the three leaders were once considered Nitish Kumar loyalists, but joined the RJD following differences with the JD(U) leader.
While Rajak returned to the RJD after 11 years, Uday Narayan Choudhary, a prominent Dalit leader from the JD(U), joined the RJD following Nitish’s decision to dissolve the grand alliance and return to the NDA fold. Uday served as the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly from 2005-2015, becoming first Dalit to hold the post. In 2015 Assembly polls, he lost to Jitan Ram Manjhi from Imamganj. Ramai Ram, a senior Dalit leader in Bihar, returned to the RJD in September 2019 after serving 10 years ties with Nitish Kumar. A nine-time MLA from Bochaha in Muzaffarpur, Ramai quit the JD(U) in 2017 to support Sharad Yadav’s Loktantrik Janata Dal which the former Madhepura MP had floated after dramatic turns of event in 2017 that saw Nitish returning to the BJP camp.
Replying to the trio’s allegation, JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan Prasad said that the Mahadalit leaders from the RJD never raised the issue of the welfare of the community while being part of the government.
Another JD(U) leader and state minister Ashok Choudhary said that the allegations levelled by the RJD leaders are baseless and credited Nitish Kumar for executing welfare schemes for the people belonging to the Mahadalit community.
Rajak and Ramai had served in the Nitish Kumar government while Uday was the Legislative Assembly Speaker from 2010 to 2015.