Patna: After the exit of Dalit minister Shyam Rajak from the JD(U) this month and the constant attack on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar by ally Chirag Paswan of the LJP, the JD(U) is now looking to bring in fresh Dalit faces ahead of the state assembly elections.
The ruling party Saturday inducted 1987-batch IPS officer and former DG, Sports, Bihar Police, Sunil Kumar, who hails from a distinguished Dalit family. Sunil is likely to be given a ticket to fight the state polls, sources said.
Sunil said he joined the party because of the work done by the Nitish’s government for the Dalits.
Welcoming Sunil into the JD(U), party leader Lallan Singh said: “Nitish ji has worked tirelessly for the upliftment of Dalits. When he came to power, he ensured Dalits get reservation in panchayat polls. Tell me how many states have reservations for Dalits in the lower judiciary?”
Sunil’s father, late Chandrika Ram, was a member of the constituent assembly before Independence and later became a Congress minister.
A product of Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, Sunil appeared for the UPSC exam from the general category. His eldest brother, Ajit Kumar, was an IFS officer, who was posted at the UN office in Geneva. His younger brother, Anil Kumar, has been a two-term Rajya Sabha MP of the RJD and four-term MLA of the Congress from Bhorey assembly seat in Gopalganj near the Uttar Pradesh border.
A close associate of Sunil told ThePrint: “Post-retirement, he went to meet Nitish Kumar seeking a place in the state human rights commission. Nitish instead asked him to join his party and be ready to contest from Bhorey (in this assembly election).”
This has, however, caused heartburn in the BJP as the party was looking to field former MP Janak Chamar from Bhorey, party sources said.
Chamar was one of the five MPs dropped by the BJP to accommodate Nitish’s demand that the JD(U) and BJP should contest 17 seats each in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Sunil is, however, not the only Dalit face the JD(U) has inducted.
Immediately after Rajak’s exit, RJD MLA Prema Choudhary joined the party. Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, who had earlier openly declared that he was out of the Grand Alliance, is now on his way to rejoin JD(U).
“There are others (Dalit faces) who will come,” said a senior JD(U) leader.
Why Nitish is searching for Dalit faces
The series of attacks launched by Chirag Paswan on Nitish over issues related to returning migrant labourers, handling of the Covid crisis and the devastating floods has left the chief minister worried.
There has also been speculation that the LJP may contest the assembly elections independently and field candidates against the JD(U).
To counter the allegations of neglecting Dalits, Nitish is looking for new Dalit faces so that he can field them in the upcoming elections.
“The party has earlier lost Dalit faces like Ramai Ram, a former minister, and Uday Narayan Choudhary, former assembly Speaker. With the LJP openly going against us, we felt their was a need to bring on board new Dalit faces,” said a JD(U) MP, who didn’t want to be named.
‘Nitish believes in Dalit symbolism’
Dalits in Bihar constitute 16 per cent of the population.
Before 1990, Dalits were a major Congress vote bank. However, after 1990, a major chunk of the Dalit votes went over to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and the CPI(ML).
When Nitish came to power in 2005, apart from ensuring reservation for Dalits in panchayat elections and bodies, he formed the ‘Mahadalit’ section — clubbing 21 of the 22 sections of the Dalits, leaving only Paswans out of this group.
Paswans constitute 6 per cent of the Dalit population in Bihar, while the rest 10 per cent were clubbed as Mahadalits, making them eligible to reap the benefits of sops and government schemes.
The move paid political dividends and the CPI(ML), which held sway over Mahadalit votes, drew a blank in the 2010 assembly elections.
Due to the hostility brewing between the JD(U) and LJP over the last two months, which a section of JD(U) leaders believe is the handiwork of the BJP, Nitish has been trying to rebuild his own base among the Dalits in which people like Jitan Ram Manjhi, Sunil Kumar and Prema Choudhary come handy.
Rajak, however, told ThePrint that Nitish hasn’t done anything concrete for Dalit upliftment as he only indulged in symbolism.
“Nitish uses Dalit figures for his own political gains. He made Uday Narayan Choudhary, a Dalit, the speaker of Bihar assembly twice. But he used him like a rubber stamp. He made Dashrath Manjhi (the man from Gaya, who single-handedly carved out a road through a mountain) sit on his chair at 1, Aney Marg (Bihar CM’s official residence in Patna) and used it for political advantage,” he said.
Dashrath Manjhi had carved out a 360-foot-long road through a hill using just a hammer and chisel over a period of 22 years. He took on this unimaginable task after his wife fell and injured herself walking across the hill. When he came to meet Nitish in 2006, the chief minister got off his chair and made him sit on it.
Manjhi died in 2007. His life became the subject of a movie in 2015 in which actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui had portrayed Manjhi’s character.
Rajak further said: “He made Jitan Ram Manjhi the CM of Bihar but had him removed when it became inconvenient. Nitish believes in Dalit symbolism. The actual status of Dalits is still very poor in the state despite his 15-year rule.”