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Idea Exchange: ‘One can get together with the lesser evil to fight the enemy’

Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi talks about his entry into politics, his party’s alliance with the RJD.

Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.

In this Idea Exchange moderated by Assistant Editor Santosh Singh, Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi talks about his entry into politics, his party’s alliance with the RJD, and how Nitish Kumar has supported his decisions

WHY MANJHI?
Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi is increasingly asserting his  position with aggressive Dalit politics and is hogging  headlines with statements such as “Madhubani temple was washed after my visit” and that “Scheduled Caste people should go for inter-caste marriage to raise their numbers”. The JD (U) top leadership is worried Manjhi could undo all the good work done by Nitish Kumar, but is in two minds over removing him  fearing a Dalit backlash.

As Nitish projects himself as the party’s face during the first phase of his Sampark Yatra, Manjhi is carving a place for himself beyond November 2015, when the present government’s term ends.

JITAN RAM MANJHI: I was born near a nullah (rivulet). When I was one, there was a big flood, the nullah overflowed and the water reached our homes. There was no place to run. All members of the five-six families near the nullah climbed onto a nearby banyan tree for safety. My father wrapped me up in his dhoti and hung it from a tree branch. Four hours later, the water receded. We shifted to a place called Dhibra and started living there.

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My parents were construction workers. My mother was dark, my father slim and fair. When he wore a sari since he was a natua (male dancer dressed as woman) and performed at festivals, people would marvel at him.

When I was six-seven years old, my father worked as a bonded farm labourer. Those days, the labourer’s son had to work in the landlord’s house. My father tried to negotiate with the landlord to let me study, but he didn’t listen. So, I worked at the landlord’s house.

A tutor used to visit that house. Coincidentally, my father and the tutor used to visit the same liquor shop. Once, I was squatting on the floor, as servants did, and watching the tutor teach the landlord’s son. The tutor got annoyed with him for not remembering a lesson and caned him. The next day he tried to cane the boy again, but I grabbed the stick and said that I would complain to the landlord that he hit him. I told the tutor I could tell him what he wanted to know in place of the landlord’s son, and did too.

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The next day when the tutor met my father, he told him I should study. It was then that my studies started. In 1962, I passed my Class X.

LIZ MATHEW: How did you enter politics?

The same year, 1962, elections were around the corner. Candidates from political parties would visit the village and say vote for the Congress. So all the Scheduled Castes in the village would vote for the Congress. I thought, why can’t we ask for votes for ourselves. I told my friends I would join politics. But I was worried about what would happen if I was not able to take care of my parents, if they had to continue working as manual labourers. I knew I had to find a solution, and it was to provide my younger brother an education so that he could get a job and take care of my parents.

When I was in college, my teachers would ask me to deliver their lectures. It struck me that I am doing well in studies and even my teachers trust me so much, so why shouldn’t I become a professor after a Masters? So I decided to do my M.A. while also ensuring my brother studied. Even as he passed Class X, I studied till the first year of my M.A.

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Liz Mathew: Has this experience helped you or handicapped you in politics?

It helped me. But let me finish my story. My father never told me what to do. When I was in college, people were filling up forms to join politics, and I followed them. Then there was a vacancy for a government job and I applied. I told myself I would work until my younger brother is settled. When he became a sub-inspector of police, I joined politics. That was in 1976.

Maneesh Chhibber: Did you ever think that you would become a chief minister?
Not even in my dreams.

Maneesh Chhibber: When Nitish Kumar decided to resign as CM, what did you say to him?

No conversation happened. For the sake of the party, we told him not to resign. We said, ‘So many big politicians have lost and said they would resign but they didn’t. You didn’t even make such claims about resigning in the face of loss, so why do you have to resign?’. But then, the same people who said he shouldn’t resign accepted his resignation. I had packed my suitcase and was on my way to a wedding when I got a call from Nitishji. He asked me to meet him. When I reached his official home, Sharad Yadav was there. I headed towards a chair next to them. Nitishji said, ‘Don’t sit on that chair, sit on this one. This house is yours now.’

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Maneesh Chhibber: Why did they choose you?
You should ask him that.

Maneesh Chhibber: What, according to you, was the reason?

Since I joined politics, I haven’t faced any controversies. I have even helped my enemies. I always forgive my enemies in the world of politics.

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Santosh Singh: Are you under any pressure from the party, which appears to be trying to bring Nitish back and is projecting him as CM candidate in his Sampark Yatra?

Nitish Kumar is a great man. Whether his greatness is being questioned by a few people deliberately or due to ignorance, he is so great that, to me, he is a man on a very high pedestal. He has never said it (about being CM again), he’s never felt it. The suggestion of him taking care of the next elections and becoming the next CM…he did that under pressure. He made me the CM because he trusts me.

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Liz Mathew: The BJP has been saying that since you became CM, you have not done much in the field of governance, and that you make controversial statements to stay in the news. What do you have to say about this?

In Ara, some girls were raped. In 24 hours, the culprits were caught, the chargesheet was filed. Isn’t this proof of good governance? Secondly, I went to Patna Medical College and Hospital (after the Gandhi Maidan stampede on Dussehra), I saw the condition of the poor patients, and realised the doctors were careless. I transferred them — this is something even Nitishji and Laluji didn’t do. Isn’t this proof enough? Thirdly, during Chhath Puja too, we managed well. Then, it was widely believed that certain officers wouldn’t be transferred or moved, I did that too my own way. I want to give health cards to Scheduled Castes, and give them a message that ‘don’t worry, I am there for you’. How many more examples do you want me to give?

Rakesh Sinha: What is your opinion on the JD(U) joining hands with the RJD during the elections?

One can join hands with the lesser evil to fight the enemy. And our greatest enemy right now is the BJP. If India’s sovereignty has to be kept intact and its various communities have to be kept united, then there are two-three things that have to be implemented. If things have to be okay in Kashmir then Article 370 should exist, if secular society has to be maintained, then we can’t move towards Uniform Civil Code, and if Hindus and Muslims have to stay united, the masjid-mandir issue needs to be resolved by court or by arbitration. These are three basic issues, and if they’re not sorted, it can hurt the foundation of our society/country.

The BJP wants to turn the country into a Hindu rashtra. People with a neutral stand will never want this, irrespective of which party they belong to. Keeping this as the premise, I spoke to Laluji. I was in his party in in the past, so when I became CM, he would have thought that ‘Manjhi is my man’. And then we united.

Today, Nitishji is moving forward. We spoke to Mulayam Singhji. Laluji is also forging a relationship with Mulayam Singhji. In the larger interest, this wedlock is fine.

We have also experimented with such a wedlock. In the bypolls to the Vidhan Sabha seats, we won six by large margins.

I have great respect for Laluji, he did a lot for marginalised communities, though no development, which came in the time of Nitishji.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: The JD(U) had a wedlock too with the BJP. How do you justify that?

At that time, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was PM and Nitishji was a minister, and we were with them because they decided not to touch the three issues I just mentioned. Under Modiji, the three issues are being treated differently. So how can we be together?

HARISH DAMODARAN: Isn’t the Mahadalit identity counter-productive? The bargaining power of the Dalits has been reduced. Doesn’t the Mahadalit identity dilute the philosophy of Ambedkar?

Everyone doesn’t think like this. Even within the SCs, there are some sub-castes whose social and economic situation has not improved after so many years. They have to be pushed somehow, right? That’s why they’re being given help in education and development.

VANDITA MISHRA: It all started as how you’re saying it but now it has  reached a point where all the Dalit groups are Mahadalits, except the Paswans, and they’re a part of your opponent’s constituency.

That’s fine. But let me tell you the background. Through a person’s social, economic condition you can figure out their level of development or backwardness.  Paswans come under the SCs but they have always had relations with the zamindars, so they have become a militant caste. Economically, in all the villages, they kept getting jagirs. They kept farming and have been more prosperous than the rest of the communities. Taking all this into consideration, this decision was made. But we are reconsidering. The Constitution restricts us. We promote inter-caste marriages. You’re 22 (castes), if you get united, politics will be in our hands.

VANDITA MISHRA: You say you can get Mahadalit status to the Paswans. In that case, what’s the point of the Mahadalit category?
Mahadalit is not a constitutional word, it’s a term to uplift people. The word could finally go away, and it would just be Dalit.

SANTOSH SINGH: Isn’t this the reason Ram Vilas Paswan said that you’re a better CM than Nitish Kumar but are not being allowed to work properly?

I refute the second statement that Nitishji is not letting me work properly. At the Gaya meeting also, I said the same. One day I scolded my ministers too… I will only listen to Nitish Kumarji, not anyone else. He’s never said anything. I have taken some decisions and he’s supported me.

Praveen Raman: So many politicians have joined Twitter. Are you also planning to do so?
To tell you the truth, I don’t even know how to receive SMSes on the phone.

Transcribed by Debesh Banerjee and Somya Lakhani

First published on: 14-12-2014 at 12:26:08 am
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