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The Hindu
The Hindu
Amit Bhelari

I am a true Ram Bhakt and have never spoken against Lord Ram, says Jitan Ram Manjhi

Jitan Ram Manjhi, who carries the tag of being the first Chief Minister of Bihar from the Mushar community, is contesting Lok Sabha election from Gaya seat as an National Democratic Alliance (NDA) candidate. The soft-spoken Mahadalit leader has track record of switching sides frequently (eight times) is in direct contest with RJD candidate Kumar Sarjaveet. Having spent more than 40 years in politics and started the political career with the Congress, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) leader is once again contesting the Lok Sabha polls on reserved seat for Scheduled Caste. Mr. Manjhi has unsuccessfully contested Lok Sabha thrice – 1991, 2014 and 2019 — from the seat and this is his fourth attempt. Interestingly, when Mr. Manjhi first contested Lok Sabha poll, Mr. Sarjaveet’s father Rajesh Kumar had defeated him. Amid hectic poll campaign, Mr. Manjhi spoke to The Hindu.

Following are the excerpts.

What forced you to contest the Lok Sabha election this time because last year you announced retirement from electoral politics saying you were too old to contest.

I am not contesting the election; the people of Gaya want me to contest the election. They want me to play an important role to bring positive change in their life. I feel that god wants me to do something for the people of Gaya and that’s the reason, god has asked me to contest election. In Bihar, north Bihar faces floods whereas south Bihar faces drought. So, in Gaya, there is a problem of water scarcity and people struggle over here to get clean and safe drinking water. The farming of wheat and rice is badly affected due to the water crisis. For that I plan to bring the water of Sone river to Falgu river in Gaya. Interlinking the river was the vision of Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji and I am very much inspired by him so I thought that if become the MP, the first work I will do is to link Sone river to Falgu river so that the water could be available round the year. In the summer, you cannot find water in the Falgu river. Interlinking the river will help the people of Gaya to solve the problem of drought. The water could be used for irrigation and other essential purposes.

You have always stayed in the centre of controversies for making remarks against Lord Ram saying he was imaginary. Today, Ram Temple has become one of BJP’s biggest weapons during campaign.

I am never against Lord Ram; it is the media which has always misquoted me and writes and telecasts those parts which make news for them. I have the surname Ram which clearly indicates that I am a true devotee of Lord Ram. Shabri was my ancestral mother who had offered ecchal-ber (half eaten jujube fruits) to Lord Ram and he consumed it but today people from upper caste don’t like having food with Dalit and call themselves Ram Bhakt. They are not, we are Ram Bhakt and here is my logic which I tell people but the media always ignores this part. While being the Chief Minister when I had visited a temple in Bihar, it was purified and the deities were washed after my visit. Kashi’s Vishwanath Temple was washed after the visit of Jagjivan Ram when he was Deputy Prime Minister. Then President Ram Nath Kovind and his wife Savita Kovind were not allowed to enter Jagannath Temple in Odisha. My only reservation is against such practices, not against Ram.

Caste plays an important role in the election, Mahagathbandhan claims to have support of MY-BAAP - Muslim-Yadav- and Bahujan Agada Adhi-Abadi-[women] and Poor, which caste is supporting you?

No one is supporting them; you visit the village and you will see the real picture. People have lots of expectations from me because they have seen my work as Chief Minister for nine months. As a CM I did a lot of work for the Magadh division. So, people are thinking that if I can do so much work as CM then I can do much more work while being with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an MP. There is no caste factor in Gaya Lok Sabha constituency, be it Muslim-Yadav, EBC or OBC, women and poor, all are supporting me and not Mahagathbandhan. People of Gaya know very well about the candidate [Kumar Sarvajeet] contesting against me and the party [RJD] he belongs to. Everybody knows what the RJD did during their 15 years of regime. So, I don’t need to make much effort to defeat my opponent.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders of the BJP are speaking against nepotism but it is visible in every party, even your son is Minister in the Cabinet of Nitish Kumar.

Nepotism needs to be understood in a broader perspective. Nepotism means those who have no talent, no education, and by virtue of being the son of the Chief Minister or any big leader they win the election. You cannot call my son or anyone a product of nepotism despite having given their life for the social cause for many years. If there is any example of nepotism that is Lalu Prasad. After him, his wife Rabri Devi became the Chief Minister, then his sons became the Deputy Chief Minister and Minister, then his daughter also became a Member of Parliament and now his other daughter is contesting Lok Sabha election. What kind of work his daughters and sons have done for society, in which revolution have they taken part? Whom have they fought for? Except being the sons and daughters, they have no other identification. Even my son is not a product of nepotism. He has struggled a lot to reach here, before entry into politics he was working in UNICEF.

You said Chirag Paswan is the future of Bihar, who wants him to become the Chief Minister and why?

Bihar has already seen the Chief Ministers from Upper Caste and Backward Caste who completed their tenure in the office. So now it is the turn of a Scheduled Caste to hold the top post of the State. All three times we had CMs from Scheduled Caste only for a brief period. Bhola Prasad Shastri (11 months), Ram Sundar Das (10 months) and myself for nine months. We were like “fill in the blanks”. The Scheduled Caste of Bihar does not want such a CM, they want a full-fledged CM and Chirag Paswan has all the caliber to lead the State. As far as possibility is concerned, let the NDA form the government in the Centre. We will create such a situation that responsibility of Bihar would be given to Chirag.

After the caste survey in Bihar, everyone is talking about it and even Rahul Gandhi is saying that his government will conduct a caste census if the Congress is voted to power. Why is the NDA government not willing to conduct a caste census at the national level?

The Bihar government has done caste-based survey and there are some flaws but overall it is fine. Even, I support that caste census should be carried out at national level, however there are some issues in front of the Central government and in the days to come some amicable solution will definitely come. As far as Rahul Gandhi is concerned, no one is taking him seriously because Congress is nowhere in the race and BJP- led NDA will form the government once again. Let him imagine and day dream. If anything at all will be done regarding the caste census, it will be by none other than Narendra Modi.

When Nitish Kumar removed you from the post of Chief Minister, you had levelled serious allegations and called him anti-Dalit and now you are contesting elections having an alliance with his party?

There is no point in going into the past and you know very well that in politics there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Today, the only motive of all NDA partners is to make Narendra Modi ji Prime Minister for the third consecutive term so that the country could develop and become the third largest economy of the world. We are all working in that direction.

You worked with both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, whose governance was better?

Nitish Kumar is a man who believes in hard work whereas Lalu Prasad plays with the sentiment of the people and provokes others. Nitish is a rigid person but that is also a talent because he delivers what he says. To understand it in a simple way, you can say there is Nagraj – [Nitish - it is worshipped] and there is Saampraj [Lalu - it bites]. Nitish is filled with merit, there is no comparison with Lalu.

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