Manjhi who was expected to be the saviour of NDA in Bihar failed miserably in the assembly elections concluded in Nov. 2015. His party won in the end only 1 out of 19 seats it contested. Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) received a vote share of 2.3% even lower than NOTA at 2.5%, speaking volumes of its success.
HAM contested on 19 seats, it won only 1 seat (Manjhi himself) and was runner up in 17 seats. This looks not that bad. However, consider that 7 of the candidates were sitting MLAs. Additionally, in 14 out of these 17 seats, their candidates lost by more than 10,000 votes which is a big margin in state polls. The average margin by which HAM candidates lost was 23,058 votes, 28% higher than average victory margins across 243 seats.
BJP built high hopes on Manjhi
BJP was betting big on Manjhi to swing the Mahadalit vote bank from Nitish led Maha Gathbandhan (MGB) into NDA fold. Mahadalits account for 10% of Bihar population and were capable of influencing the outcome along with Dalits (6%) in not only the 40 seats reserved for SC/ST category but also approximately 60 other seats (so in total 40% of the seats).
One-third of Mahadalits voted for NDA in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. NDA was lagging by approx. 5% vote share compared to Maha Gathbandhan in LS polls (39% vs 45%. It was banking on Manjhi to get an additional one-third of Mahadalit votes translating into an additional vote share of 3.3% (33% of 10%) and thereby bridge the gap between NDA and MGB. Alas it didn’t happen.
In 7 districts (graph above) which have Mahadalits in excess of 10% (higher than their average population in the state) NDA won just 9 of the 35 seats. In 40 SC/ ST seats, NDA could win only 5. In 97 seats in the top 10 districts having maximum Mahadalit population, NDA won 32.
Historical Voting Preferences of Dalits / Mahadalits
Dalits / Mahadalits voted in large numbers (44%) in favour of BJP led NDA in 1999 LS polls to install Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM. This vote share steadily declined to 18% by 2005 state polls when Paswan emerged as the champion of this community in Bihar. After installation of NDA (BJP+JDU) govt. in Bihar and creation of Mahadalit category by Nitish this vote share increased to 31% levels in 2010 state polls. In 2014 Lok Sabha, BJP got 42% of Dalits / Mahadalits votes.
Lalu got 39% Dalits / Mahadalits votes in 1999, which increased to 42% in 2004 LS polls (in alliance with Paswan). This declined to 20% when Paswan fought with Left Front and not RJD in 2005 state polls. In 2010 it recovered to 29% when Paswan again joined Lalu alliance. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Lalu’s party got only 10% of dalits / mahadalits votes. JDU got 20% of the community votes making it 30% MGB.
As per Axis exit poll (the closest to predicting NDA vote share correctly at 36% vs actual 34%) 48% SC/ST voted for NDA and 37% for MGB. This is pretty low and only 6% increase from LS polls implying an additional 1% vote share only (6% of 16% Dalit / Mahadalit population). So while NDA gained 6% by the induction of Manjhi, MGB gained higher vote share from Dalits / Mahadalits (7%).
Dalits & Mahadalits voting pattern across polls
- 1999-2010: All numbers for RJD and NDA (BJP+JDU).
- 2014 LS no. of RJD includes JDU (MGB) while NDA no. is of BJP and allies but excluding JDU.
- 2015 no. as per Axis Poll Data.
- LS: Lok Sabha, VS: Vidhan Sabha
9 Factors which worked against Manjhi
- Manjhi was not the undisputed leader of Mahadalits unlike Paswan for Dusadhs, he had yet to prove himself. He shot into fame after Nitish made him CM but was not among the prominent political faces of the state prior to that.
- In 12 out of 19 seats which his party contested, his candidates were locked in a tough fight with erstwhile parent party JDU. Bihar voters overwhelmingly preferred JDU in these head to head contests, thereby implying they did not support his revolt and the drama in the early part of the year when he refused to step down as CM backed by BJP.
- As HAM was a new party, voters had difficulty in recognizing his symbol (as Dr. Pravin Patil of 5Forty3 fame puts it). This was not properly addressed by NDA.
- Tussle of one-upmanship with Ram Vilas Paswan didn’t help Manjhi as well as NDA. Till the arrival of Manjhi, Paswan was considered as the undisputed leader of both Dalits as well as Mahadalits. After Manjhi’s arrival on scene and inclusion in NDA, the two didn’t see eye to eye, Manjhi claiming he is a bigger leader as Mahadalits comprise 10% while Dalits only 6% of population.
- Seat sharing troubles in the alliance meant Paswan and Manjhi laying claim for the same seat. While this was sorted before elections and they presented a united face, cadre of both parties may not have supported whole heartedly the other.
- BJP also was unable to transfer its support base votes comprising (Upper Caste, Banias, Koeris / Kushwahas) to HAM candidates. While upper caste and banias supported BJP overwhelmingly, their enthusiasm was not the same for it’s allies candidates including HAM.
- Support of BJP infrastructure for a new party like HAM was missing as BJP / RSS cadre was seen concentrating on BJP contested seats in which it felt it had a high probability of winning.
- The anti-reservation comment made by RSS chief was played up by MGB to their advantage and instill fear among SC/ST. This is one of the primary reasons for increase in SC/ST vote share of MGB (37% vs 30% in LS polls 2014).
- Fewer seats allotted to HAM meant Manjhi could not keep everybody happy and some of his supporters revolted and contested as independents. Even his own son-in-law contested as an independent from Bodh Gaya.
Critics of Manjhi within BJP are rejoiced
People critical of Manjhi entry within NDA are now saying after his debacle ‘yeh to hona hi tha’. Manjhi was just a self-proclaimed leader of Mahadalits. His popularity can be gauged from the fact that Jiten Ram Manjhi finished a poor third in Lok Sabha polls in May 2014 from Gaya securing only 16% votes when Gaya has c.30% SC/ST population (the highest in the state). The first and second candidates were both Manjhis belonging to his community. Further, he had no previous track record to show. He had a few sitting MLAs on his side (7) but nothing apart from this.
Manjhi had let BJP down in their fight against Nitish in Feb. this year. Even after open support from the party for a show of strength on the floor of the house, Manjhi buckled under pressure and resigned before the assembly session. BJP received a lot of flak for supporting and encouraging horse trading and it did hurt party image. Still BJP took him back in NDA fold which was wrong as per critics.
What could have been done to ensure Manjhi’s success?
Amit Shah is a great strategist but needs to learn a few tricks from Congress. Congress has a history of merging smaller parties with itself (more recently merger of Chiarnjeevi led Praja Rajyam Party in Andhra Pradesh). This strategy has four benefits – (i) Kills the identity of smaller regional party, (ii) Increases stature of head of the regional party (that’s why in more often than not cases they agree), (iii) Eases seat distribution talks and (iv)Reduces the possibility of people not recognizing the symbol of smaller party. Once BJP had decided that it would induct HAM into NDA, he could have been asked to merge.
This is a problem which was mentioned by Dr. Patil (of 5Forty3 fame) that many people didn’t know what the symbol of Manjhi’s party was. Merger perhaps could have killed two birds with the same stone. It would have made these 12 JDU vs HAM contests JDU vs BJP contests (close battle), ensure proper infrastructure support for HAM candidates and also potentially give them much fewer seats to Manjhi than he got. In 57 head to head contests between JDU and BJP the score line was 29-28 almost a tie.
To sum up, Manjhi could well have been the Mountain Man for BJP in Bihar but failed. If BJP would have won he would have acquired a cult status. His failure though is partly a result of his own shortcomings plus strategic errors by BJP as mentioned above.
This is beautifully captured in the below cartoon provided by Siddharth Tiwary (@siddharth316)