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Bihar Assembly Poll: Jitan Ram Manjhi postpones meeting amid indications of return to NDA

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Patna: The Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) on Monday postponed a meeting of the proposed Third Front called by its president Jitan Ram Manjhi to discuss the strategy for the Bihar polls, amid clear indications of its return to the NDA. he meeting that was scheduled on Wednesday has been put off, a party statement said.

The HAM chief had invited some non-NDA and non-Grand Alliance parties, including Jan Adhikar Party of former MP Pappu Yadav, to discuss the strategy for the Bihar elections that is due in October-November.

Sources in the HAM said that after severing ties with the RJD-led Grand Alliance, Manjhi has been weighing options before “by and large” deciding to join the NDA, comprising of the JD(U), BJP and LJP.

Talks were earlier held even with Asaduddin Owaisi- headed AIMIM, which after winning the Kishanganj bypoll in 2019 is preparing to field a substantial number of candidates in the Seemanchal area that has a large minority population.

Though no reason was given for postponing the meeting, a senior leader of the HAM said there is no point in engaging in any such discussions when encouraging talks have already been held with the JD(U) headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Manjhi met Kumar last Thursday and believed to have held talks on seat sharing. The BJP also seems to have given the green signal to Manjhi’s come back to the grouping with its Bihar unit head Sanjay Jaiswal on Saturday saying that whoever expresses faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership is welcome to the alliance.

Jaiswal had made the comment after BJP president JP Nadda’s meeting with the party’s MPs from Bihar. HAM national spokesperson Danish Rizwan told PTI that the Nitish Kumar government has done a lot for the poor, Dalits and minorities in the state.

Notably, Manjhi had on August 20 severed his ties with the Grand Alliance after spending two-and-a-half years in the opposition coalition. Besides RJD and Congress, the opposition grouping has RLSP of former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha and Bollywood set designer-turned-politician Mukesh Sahni’s Vikasshil Insaan Party (VIP).

The CPI and CPI(M) have also shown interest to fight the state polls in understanding with the opposition coalition. The HAM chief is the lone member of his party in the assembly. But, induction of Manjhi would help NDA’s outreach to Dalits, particularly other than Paswans which is the support base of the LJP.

Dalits in Bihar are over 16 per cent of the electorate and about 40 seats in the 243-member house are reserved for them. On the day he met Kumar, Manjhi told reporters that he would talk to the press on August 30 after a party meeting. But, the meeting was cancelled and the party announced the September 2 meeting of the prospective Third Front.

Reports suggest that Manjhi joining the NDA has almost been finalised and the delay in announcement is mainly on account of the final agreement on the number of seats HAM will get to contest in the upcoming elections.

HAM wants to contest 15-20 seats, mostly in the Magadh region to which Manjhi belongs. But the JD(U) is willing to leave for it 10-12 seats, the reports have said. 

Manjhi had quit the JD(U) in 2015 after being forced to step down as the chief minister to make way for the return of Kumar. Later, he formed the HAM and contested 21 seats in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections as an NDA constituent. With the return of Kumar to the NDA in July 2017, he walked out of it to join hands with the opposition grouping. 

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