Patna: A day after he apologised for his controversial remarks on birth control, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Thursday launched into a tirade, in the state legislative assembly, against former ally Jitan Ram Manjhi, whom Nitish had picked to lead the state after the Janata Dal (United)’s poor showing in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Nitish’s angry intervention came during Manjhi’s address on the Bihar Reservation Amendment Bill, which seeks to raise the quota for SCs, STs, OBCs and OBCs in government jobs and state-run educational institutions — from 50 percent to 65 percent.
“Inko kuch idea hai? Ye toh meri galati hai jo iss aadmi ko humnein bana diya mukhya mantri. Koi sense nahi hai iska. Aise hi bolte rehta hai. Koi matlab nahi hai,” said Nitish.
(Does he have any idea? It was my fault that I made this man the chief minister. There is no sense in what he is saying. He keeps making these meaningless statements)
After reiterating that it was his “murkhta” (stupidity) to pick Manjhi to run the state, the chief minister went on to say that when he ended his 17-year alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in June 2013, he wanted Manjhi to remain with the BJP.
“I started getting complaints within two months of appointing him as the chief minister. But he came with us (in 2023). I sent him to you (BJP). Even his relatives are not with him,” said the JD(U) chief.
When BJP MLAs objected to Nitish referring to Manjhi as “tum” (you) and accused him of “insulting” a Dalit leader, the chief minister retorted: “He (Manjhi) joined you (BJP) to become a governor. Make him a governor.”
“Chup raho (keep quiet),” Nitish kept telling Manjhi, who continued speaking even after his mic was switched off. It was then that Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary tried to calm Nitish down.
As he stepped out of the Vidhan Sabha, Manjhi told ThePrint that he was Nitish’s pick for the top job since the JD(U) chief feared calls for his resignation following the party’s poor showing in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
“But he (Nitish) underestimated me. He thought I would be a rubber stamp CM. When I started making my own decisions, Nitish Kumar and his followers started having problems,” said Manjhi, who is the founder of the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) — a constituent of the BJP-led NDA.
Manjhi also said that, on the floor of the House, he questioned the authenticity of the findings of the Bihar government’s caste survey and stressed that higher quotas will need heightened monitoring at the ground level.
“The roster system was introduced in 1971 but only 3 percent of the vacancies for Dalits have been filled. I became an MLA for the first time in 1980 and am currently 80. Nitish became an MLA for the first time in 1985 and is currently 74. His use of derogatory terms for me indicates that Nitish has become mentally unstable,” said Manjhi.
While most leaders of the ruling alliance chose to remain tight-lipped on Nitish’s outburst, Bihar minister and JD(U) MLA Ratnesh Sada sensed a ‘conspiracy’.
“BJP MLAs were ready with placards just after the incident,” he said.
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The politics of Jitan Ram Manjhi
Manjhi, who served as chief minister of Bihar from May 2014 to February 2015, belongs to the Musahar community, a sub-caste among Dalits. Born and brought up in Gaya district, he entered politics in 1980 as an aide to former chief minister late Jagannath Mishra of the Congress.
By the late 1990s, Manjhi was a junior minister in the governments of Lalu Prasad Yadav and later his wife Rabri Devi.
When Nitish was sworn in as the chief minister for the second time in 2005, Manjhi was inducted into the cabinet but had to step down as a minister within four hours on account of a vigilance case against him. The case pertained to allegations of irregularities concerning the recognition of B.Ed colleges during his tenure as a minister in the Rabri Devi administration.
Manjhi was inducted into the cabinet a second time after his name was cleared by the state vigilance department in this case.
From being an obscure politician, he shot into prominence in 2014 after Nitish picked him to assume the office of chief minister, despite Manjhi losing his deposit from Gaya — a reserved seat — in the Lok Sabha polls.
However, his tenure was marked by Nitish loyalists accusing him of ignoring the JD(U) chief.
Manjhi floated a new outfit, the HAM, to contest the 2015 Bihar assembly polls in alliance with the BJP. But he could not win only his seat.
By 2019, Manjhi had switched over to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), contesting the Lok Sabha polls as part of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), which at the time did not include Kumar’s JD(U) — then a member of the BJP-led NDA. But Manjhi’s party drew a blank.
Ahead of the 2020 assembly polls, Manjhi joined hands with Nitish once again and his party won three of the seven seats it contested. His son Santosh Kumar Suman was elected as an MLC and appointed a minister. However, this alliance too was short-lived.
Earlier this year, Nitish told Manjhi to merge his party with the JD(U). The HAM chief turned down the offer and instead walked out of the Mahagathbandhan before joining the BJP-led NDA.
Support for Manjhi among the Musahars — who make up 3 percent of the state’s population — is believed to be largely limited to the Magadh region.
“Nevertheless, Manjhi is one of the prominent Dalit faces of Bihar politics and Nitish ji should have avoided demeaning him in the House,” said a Bihar minister and JD(U) leader who did not want to be named.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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