New Delhi,Amita Shah(dna): Prime minister Narendra Modi and former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi have a common political foe in the state — Nitish Kumar. As the two met on Tuesday evening, it was Modi who is understood to have set the tone, saying that what he appreciated about Manjhi was that he had a smile even in the most adverse circumstances.
Though details of the 15-minute meeting are not known, it is politically significant as it comes at a time when offshoots of the Janata Parivar are exploring a merger. Manjhi had met Modi in February as well, but at that time he was chief minister.
If the merger takes place, Manjhi is likely to insist on retaining the JD-U symbol. If the demand is denied, he plans to part ways and consider forming his own party, sources said. The BJP, which would be facing a formidable alliance in the Bihar elections later this year if JD-U leader Nitish Kumar and RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav get together, is keeping its options open vis-a-vis Manjhi, party sources said.
Whether he joins the BJP-led NDA or fights as a third force, it would help the BJP, they said.
Manjhi had seemed to be toying with the option of aligning with Lalu Prasad Yadav, but his teaming up with his bete noire Kumar is pushing him towards the NDA, sources said. The BJP, which has dubbed Kumar’s rule in the state as “jungle raj” is apparently planning to reach out to people cutting across caste lines. However, it is hoping that if Manjhi snaps ties with Kumar, he would take away the 12 per cent mahadalit vote with him. Manjhi’s aim is to defeat Kumar, sources said.
After meeting Modi, Manjhi met petroleum and natural gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan and was scheduled to meet surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari.
In Patna, the BJP took on the Nitish Kumar government for not initiating stern action against the act of washing Ram Manohar Lohia’s statue after Manjhi had garlanded it. Apparently cashing in on the 'mahadalit' sentiment over the issue, leader of Opposition Nand Kishore Yadav raised the issue in the assembly. “The Sunday incident of cleaning Lohia's statue is a serious crime in the rule of sushasan (good governance),” Yadav said.
BJP chief Amit Shah is holding a meeting with party workers in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan on April 14, Dalit icon BR Ambedkar’s birth anniversary.