On the birthday of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, his elder son and party legislator Tej Pratap Yadav’s meeting with NDA ally, Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) leader and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi on Friday, sparked speculation in Bihar’s political circles.
Mr. Prasad, who was released on bail, is currently undergoing medical treatment at his elder daughter and Rajya Sabha MP Misa Bharti’s residence in New Delhi.
Both the leaders had a closed door meeting for over 35 minutes at Mr. Manjhi’s residence in Patna. Party sources also said the HAM chief spoke to the RJD chief on the phone during the meeting.
However, after the meeting both leaders dismissed political speculations.
“It was just a courtesy meeting and such meetings between leaders should often take place. There was nothing political in the meeting and I’m in the NDA,” said Mr. Manjhi while Mr. Tej Pratap Yadav said, “I had come to meet Mr. Manjhi for guidance but if he wants to come with us, we’ll welcome him.”
Mr Manjhi has recently criticised the BJP on several issues. In May, he had hit headlines with his tweet which said that “if the Prime Minister’s picture will be on vaccine certificates, his photo should also be there on death certificates of those dying with COVID-19”.
He had also demanded that the Bihar government extend the tenure of panchayat representatives for six months — which was turned down by the government.
And on June 1, Mr Manjhi wished the RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi on their marriage anniversary.
On Friday too, Mr. Manjhi wished Mr. Prasad on his birthday. “Several good wishes to former Bihar chief minister honorable Lalu Prasad ji. Pray to god for your longevity and ever smile,” Mr Manjhi tweeted in Hindi which set off ripples among NDA leaders but they declined to make any comment on this.
“A senior leader has wished a senior leader of the State on his birthday. What is new in it,” asked a senior State BJP leader. However, when asked if Mr. Manjhi would remain a part of ruling NDA alliance in Bihar, he said, “He is with us and will remain with us.”
But political analysts read between the lines of Mr Manjhi’s overtures towards the RJD and repeated criticisms of NDA leaders. “In coming days, Bihar’s politics may see a new equation in power with RJD chief Lalu Prasad coming out of jail on bail. Mr Prasad is a master politician in making connection with leaders,” said political analyst Ajay Kumar.
Mr Manjhi’s party HAM(S) has four MLAs in the 243 seat State Assembly. Similarly, another NDA ally Vikashil Insaan Party of Mukesh Sahani has four MLAs and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) have five legislators. The RJD has 75, Congress 19 and three Left Parties have total 16 MLAs. “If they come together, the Opposition mahagathbandhan could get majority mark of 123 MLAs in the State Assembly. The NDA currently has support of 128 MLAs,” said Mr. Kumar.
Friday’s meeting comes days after a meeting between Mr Manjhi and Mr. Sahani in Patna.