In a boost for the ruling alliance in Bihar, former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi has announced that his Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) is leaving the opposition Mahagathbandhan and looking for an alternative ahead of assembly polls. There is speculation that HAM(S) may merge with chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) or join the NDA as a partner. In any case, these are the only two options that Manjhi has as there is no electoral gain for him in going alone. And his switchover to NDA will certainly aid the ruling alliance which could then boast of an impressive social coalition that includes upper caste Brahmins to Mahadalits.
Add to this the financial muscle of the NDA that will help it in smoothly switching over to virtual campaigning in the wake of Covid-19. True, Nitish is facing some anti-incumbency given that this is his third straight term as CM. It can be argued that he had only won the last election because he had ditched the BJP then and joined the Mahagathbandhan. But he later again switched sides and went back to the BJP. Nonetheless, he still remains the most popular leader in Bihar and has steadily cultivated new constituencies like women and extremely poor segments of backward communities.
Plus, the opposition in Bihar has practically become invisible. RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav is yet to mature as a leader while Congress is in disarray. All of this means that it is advantage Nitish in Bihar despite his government’s poor handling of Covid and the state’s deplorable public health infrastructure. And Manjhi’s defection could very well seal the poll verdict in Nitish’s favour.