A ground survey of high-profile Gaya’s Imamganj constituency done 10 days before Oct 28 reveals that NDA candidate and Hindustani Awam Morcha chief Jitan Ram Manjhi appears to have an edge over Grand Alliance’s Uday Narayan Chaudhary, the Bihar assembly speaker till 2015. However, analysts do not rule out change in scenario after the visit of the leader of opposition, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav.
For more than two and a half decades Chaudhary enjoyed strong clout in this seat and won five Assembly elections. He has the credit for being the first Dalit Speaker of Bihar for ten years. Ironically, in 2015, he as the Janata Dal United candidate lost to Manjhi, whose HAM was a constituent of the BJP-led NDA. Manjhi also contested from Makhdoompur Assembly seat, in Jahanabad district then, but lost from there.
After unseating Chaudhary, Manjhi has cultivated Imamganj. He has an advantage because the constituency has a big Musahar population, the caste to which Manjhi belongs. After his elevation to the Chief ministerial post of the state, Manjhi’s stature rose considerably among his caste. This has helped him to win the seat in 2015 defying Chaudhary’s combined vote bank of RJD and JDU.
Unlike Chaudhary, Manjhi remains either aloof from or impartial in local politics which is earning him the appreciation and support of influential people across communities.
Moreover, the other prominent caste leader Raushan Manjhi, a JDU leader who was a strong contender of the seat until HAM returned to NDA, has been campaigning for the senior Manjhi. In 2010, Raushan Manjhi contested the seat on RJD ticket and lost to Chaudhary by barely a few hundred votes.
Talking to TheNewsWeb, Raushan Manjhi said, “There is no contest this time. It is a cakewalk for Jitan Ram Manjhi as the latter’s base has increased substantially thanks to the alliance with JDU and BJP. This will increase the margin of victory for Jitan Ram Manjhi in the coming poll.”
Echoing the view Rustam Ali who is associated with a prominent Hindi daily said, “The problem with Uday Narayan Chaudhary is that hardly any base has been added to his social equation of 2015. The induction of left parties would not be enough to ensure victory, though it is alleged that Chaudhary had some sort of a link with Naxals in the past. Besides, according to local people, the migrant crisis or unemployment issue is not going to influence the voting in this region. Therefore, it would be a tough call for Uday Narayan Chaudhary to overcome the challenge.”
Given the meagre presence of his caste ‘Pasi’ in the region, Chaudahry nurtured Dangis, a sub caste of Koeris as his vote bank whose numerical strength in the constituency is even more than Musahars. However, analysts suggest that their loyalty towards Chaudhary has started dwindling lately.
Aware of caste arithmetic and the importance of Koeri votes Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Friday Oct 16 addressed a rally in Imamganj to support Jitan Ram Manjhi. As is known many Koeris consider Nitish Kumar as their leader.
The other major candidate in fray is LJP’s Shobha, the daughter in law of RJD leader Ramswaroop Paswan. Along with his own caste, Paswan enjoys considerable clout among Muslims. Therefore, she might also eat up some votes of the Grand Alliance candidate.
However, the counter-argument is that Musahars voting percentage is often very low because they come from the weakest section of the society. Besides, according to a college teacher who wished not to be quoted, educated Musahars do not like Jitan Ram Manjhi’s association with feudal elements. So they may remain indifferent. He said that the presence of Shobha will definitely cut the NDA vote-bank as Paswans have a substantial population.
Not only that Muslim votes will definitely go to Chaudhary as the community has forgotten and forgiven his earlier association with ultra-left elements. Almost 30 years back many Muslim affluent farmers alongwith Rajputs were killed by the Maoist Communist Centre. In retaliation the Rajputs formed Sunlight Sena, whose leadership later went into the hands of local Pathans. But this has become a part of history and Chaudhary is not considered as an enemy by Muslims, he said.
(Shams Khan is contributing editor at the TheNewsweb)