Though the elevation of Jitan Ram Manjhi came as a surprise to many, JD(U) sources said Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav had decided on the Musahar leader soon after Nitish resigned from the chief minister’s post on May 17. Apparently, Nitish called up Manjhi the very next day.
On Tuesday, Manjhi took oath as the 23rd chief minister of Bihar, and the first from the economically and socially backward Musahar community.
Manjhi and Ravidas are the largest groups among Mahadalits, who, in turn, account for 12 per cent of Bihar’s population. Bihar has had SC CMs — Bhola Paswan Shastri and Ram Sundar Das.
Manjhi, a six-time MLA, first became a deputy minister (for welfare) in the Chandrashekhar Singh-led Congress government in the early 1980s. In his second ministerial stint he was MoS for education in the RJD government in 1996. In 2005, Nitish made him public health and engineering minister.
However, allegations cropped up against him in connection with a BEd scam of the RJD government, when he had been deputy to then minister Jayprakash Narayan Yadav. He had to resign. After the court cleared his name, he re-entered the cabinet with Nitish creating a new department — SC/ST welfare. As Nitish started his social engineering to cater to a new constituency of SCs minus the Paswans — the Mahadalits — Manjhi’s department played a key role in implementing its dozen schemes. Until then, Mahadalits used to be primarily a Congress constituency.
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The biggest scheme of this department, Mahadalit Vikas Mission, pertained to free distribution of land for building homes, with 2.5 lakh SC families as beneficiaries. The government conducted exhaustive surveys to get the exact figure of landless Mahadalits. Manjhi’s job was to coordinate with the rural development and land revenue departments to ensure the scheme was implemented smoothly. Though there were controversies and even landed Dalits got land — as reported by The Indian Express in June-July 2012 — it continued to be Nitish’s flagship scheme and even seemed to be threatening Ram Vilas Paswan’s hold on his Dalit vote-bank.
Other schemes included Dasrath Manjhi Kaushal Vikas Yojana for vocational and skill development training, Mahadalit Poshak Yojana that gave Rs 500 to each student to buy uniforms and footwear, and appointment of 10,000 Vikas Mitras to monitor the progress of government schemes.
Mahadalit Shauchalaya Yojana ensured each Dalit family got Rs 300 to build a toilet. Manjhi set a target of 2,33,333 toilets by 2014. Giving Rs 400 to every Dalit family to buy a radio was another popular move. Manjhi always gave credit to Nitish, who has now rewarded him.