Patna: Though the Amit Shah-led BJP on Monday succeeded in sealing a deal on seat-sharing with its allies for the crucial Assembly elections in Bihar, its effort in getting former chief minister and the HAM chief, Jitan Ram Manjhi onboard speaks volumes about the growing importance of the 'mahadalit leader in the poll-bound state.
Why the BJP leadership surrendered to Jitam Ram Manjhi's tactics is clear from the fact that in a bid to form its government in Bihar again, Amit Shah's party badly needed the support of coalition partners like HAM to reach a simple majority in the 243-member Assembly.
A big cause of worry for the saffron party was - it knew that even if it succeeds in retaining its Lok Sabha poll vote share of 29.86 percent, it would still fall short of target if it contests alone.
In Bihar, where caste factor plays an important role in elections, the party needed people like Manjhi to reach the half way mark.
Another reason why the BJP kept placating Manjhi was the fact that its existing alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) might not have been enough against the combined might of Lalu and Nitish – which is what prompted the BJP to add Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) to its arsenal.
Though Manjhi has got a bigger deal in the bargain, his inclusion might have caused serious heartburn for the other two BJP allies, which may even create new problems for its 'Mission Bihar' at the later stages.
After getting more seats than offered earlier, the former Bihar chief minister today said that he was "fully satisfied" with the seat-sharing arrangement among NDA allies for contesting the state assembly polls.
Interestingly, Manjhi also sought to put an end to his reported tiff with fellow Dalit leader from the state and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan.
"I am fully satisfied with the decision over seat-sharing announced by BJP President Amit Shah. We are all working towards victory of NDA and the decision on seat sharing is acceptable to all," he said.
Manjhi's outfit Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) was given 20 seats as part of the seat-sharing pact. Some of its leaders will also contest on BJP symbol. Manjhi was earlier offered 13-15 of the state's 243 assembly seats, which was increased to 20 after he dug in his heels.
Asked why he settled for lesser seats than LJP which has no member in the outgoing assembly, Manjhi said his party had brought up the issue before Shah but accepted the final decision announced by him.
"Whatever decision he has taken is fine. We have accepted it. We are satisfied. There are no conditions in a coalition," he said, adding, "I had already offered unconditional support to Narendra Modi and told them (BJP) that I will be with NDA even if no seats are offered."
The former chief minister said there was a delay in announcement of the seat-sharing formula as some of his party's core group members were in Patna. At one stage during the talks, marked by intense bargaining, Manjhi had sought parity with Paswan, claiming he was a bigger Dalit leader.
Asked if his differences with Paswan are over, Manjhi said, "He told me that he has nothing against me and explained to me everything during a journey on a flight. The matter ends there."
To a question if he considered LJP as being run by one family, he said,"If some family is competent to be in politics, no one should have objections."
On who is a bigger leader between him and Paswan, the HAM leader said,"It is for the people to decide."
Asked whether he too will contest the upcoming polls, Manjhi, who was expelled from JD(U) after he refused to step down as chief minister, said,"I am considering that. I will decide soon."
The BJP, which cannot afford to let Manjhi go and fight independently, knew that the goodwill it enjoyed last year has vanished into thin air, and the electoral opponent it faced last year has become stronger than ever.
The apex leadership of the party was also apprehensive that while it would be difficult for the saffron brigade to further raise their 2014 vote share, the partners, Ram Vilas Paswan's LJP that won six of the seven seats it contested and Upendra Kushwaha RLSP that won three out of three in the Lok Sabha polls, may not be able to repeat their performance in the Assembly polls. Hence, adding Manjhi to NDA is a masterstroke as he is said to have a considerable sway over 5-6 percent Mushars or 16 percent Dalits of Bihar.