Former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi on Wednesday announced that his Hindustani Awam Morcha has joined the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar where assembly elections are due in October-November.
The party had earlier in the day said that it will become part of the ruling coalition on Thursday, but the announcement was made on Wednesday afternoon itself by Manjhi at a peess conference he held at his residence.
"After my party took the decision to pull out of Grand Alliance, my cadre had authorised me to take a call on the future political move, about which you all were very curious.
"Initially, I had planned to make the announcement on September 03. But then I had second thoughts and decided that good things must not be delayed", he said.
It was not yet clear as to when and how Manjhi's formal induction into the ruling coalition is going to materialise though sources in the Janata Dal-United said that the HAM chief may meet Kumar Thursday before modalities are decided.
The National Democratic Alliance in Bihar which so far had BJP, JD-U and the LJP as its constituents will now have another dalit-centric party HAM as a member.
The former chief minister said he will be joining hands with his former mentor and present incumbent Nitish Kumar, but insisted that his party was not going to "merge" into the Janata Dal-United headed by the latter.
Manjhi underscored that his return to the NDA was "bina kisi shart ke" (without any preconditions) and added "I am not going to answer any questions as to how many seats our party is going to demand in assembly polls".
Manjhi had met Kumar last week and since then speculation was rife about his return to the NDA, but media reports suggested the delay was on account of a final agreement on the number of seats the HAM gets in the upcoming polls.
Dalits in Bihar are over 16 per cent of the electorate and about 40 seats in the 243-member house are reserved for them, and in such a scenario Manjhi's comeback would be an
advantage for the ruling alliance.
Manjhi had quit the JD-U in 2015 after being forced to step down as the chief minister to make way for the return of Kumar.
Later, he formed the HAM(S) and contested 21 seats in the 2015 Bihar assembly elections as an NDA constituent. With the return of Kumar to the NDA in July 2017, he walked out of it to join hands with the RJD-led opposition grouping
Manjhi pledged his support, "without any conditions" to Kumar in the upcoming assembly polls in which the chief minister will run for his fourth consecutive term in office.
"I cannot deny that I owe my rise to the chief minister's post to Nitish Kumar. Of course, many unsavoury things followed which I do not wish to rake up", Manjhi said at his residence-cum-party headquarters, where he disclosed his political move.
The veteran leader also seemed full of vitriol for Lalu Prasad's RJD which helms the opposition Grand Alliance.
"I had joined the Grand Alliance (in 2018) upon being beseeched to do so by Lalu Prasad. I did not go to them with a begging bowl", said Manjhi, lashing out at the party which has been accusing the HAM chief of being "ungrateful" ever since he pulled out of the opposition coalition about a fortnight ago.
He also fumed at repeated assertions by the RJD that it had "obliged" the former chief minister by getting his greenhorn son Santosh Kumar Suman elected to the legislative council despite HAM not having the requisite numbers in the assembly.
"The RJD seems to have forgotten that had it not been for our support, the party would have failed to retain Araria Lok Sabha seat and Jehanabad assembly seat in bypolls necessitated by deaths of sitting members", the HAM leader said.
In a veiled dig at Prasads heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav, Manjhi asked "what is meant by extending a favour to my son. Is he a Class VIII dropout?"
The jibe was apparently directed at Yadav who stopped studies after class IX.
He also asserted that contrary to the RJD's allegations, he had not been playing hardball to extract his pound of flesh but only raising a "reasonable demand" for better coordination among GA partners on which Lalu Prasad's party dismissively heaped scorn.
The chief ministers party has been understandably buoyed by the development since the return of Manjhi could come in handy while dealing with troublesome alliance partners
like Ram Vilas Paswans Lok Janshakti Party.
Now headed by the founder and Union ministers son Chirag Paswan, the LJP has been repeatedly sniping at the JD-U chief on issues ranging from governance in the state to the
"loyalty" towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The LJP's decision to convene a meeting of its parliamentary board at New Delhi on September 07, the very date on which the Bihar chief minister is expected to sound the poll bugle through a virtual rally, is being seen as an indication of the rift between the two NDA partners.