Patna: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently described Nitish Kumar as “nirlajja (shameless)” reacting to the latter’s comment that it was his “foolishness” that led him to get Jitan Ram Manjhi to replace him as the chief minister in 2014.
Modi was addressing an election rally to seek votes for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at Secunderabad in Telangana on November 11 when he reacted to Nitish’s outburst in the Bihar assembly on November 9. “Nitish was in the habit of insulting the Dalits repeatedly,” Modi said.
It is not known what political mileage the BJP would derive in the wake of upcoming assembly elections in Telangana by Modi calling Nitish a “habitual assaulter”. Modi also described himself as a benefactor of the Dalits, claiming that he had stood with Chirag Paswan, son of Bihar’s Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan “whom Nitish insulted”.
Ironically, the Bihar BJP leaders who were relatively subdued by the Bihar government raising the quota for the backward classes and the Dalits to 65% in the government jobs, followed up on Modi’s comments to step up their attack on Nitish. The development has surprised the neutral observers – particularly the ones, who had closely watched the situation in which Nitish had ‘installed’ Manjhi as the chief minister, owning responsibility for his Janata Dal (United)’s poor performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Few had imagined at that time that Nitish – the supreme leader of his party who had staged a comeback as the chief minister after securing unprecedented victory for the JDU-BJP alliance with 210 seats in 243 member-Bihar assembly in 2010 assembly polls – would demit his position in favour of someone else after the BJP had done well in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
After all, the BJP had performed majestically in all the north Indian states in 2014 and Bihar was not an exception. And it was a Lok Sabha election fought in the name of Modi against the Congress. In no way, Nitish could have been made accountable for his party’s poor show in that election.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, and the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, too had lost massively against the BJP, which had projected Modi as the prime ministerial candidate and Modi had created waves in his favour.
It was on May 20, 2014. The counting of votes for the Lok Sabha elections was over and preparations were afoot for Narendra Modi to take over from Manmohan Singh as the prime minister in New Delhi. Nitish Kumar called the meeting of his JD(U) legislature party and announced, “I own the moral responsibility of our party’s defeat at the Lok Sabha polls and quit as your (JDU’s legislature party’s) leader. You are free to elect anyone from amongst you as your leader.”
It was about 10 am. All the JDU MLAs were stunned. They collectively objected to Nitish’s decision and insisted on him not to do it. Nitish’s senior from the JP movement days in the 1970s and then state JDU president Bashishtha Narayan Singh was miffed at Nitsh’s decision.
The then party’s national president, Sharad Yadav, landed in Patna at noon, driving to the 1-Aney Marg – Bihar chief minister’s house and venue of the JDU legislature party meeting – to oversee the proceedings. The JDU cadres who had thronged in thousands outside the 1-Aney Marg hit out at Sharad Yadav when he said, “It’s hard to persuade Nitish; we will have to go by his decision.”
“You are the president. It’s sacrilegious that you are unable to persuade Nitish ji. Your conduct is not acceptable”, a cadre was heard blurting angrily at Sharad.
The MLAs kept up with their pressure on Nitish to withdraw his decision to quit as the chief minister for almost five hours. However, they failed eventually and consented to Nitish’s plan to nominate someone in his place. It was at about 2:30 pm Nitish dropped the name of Jitan Ram Manjhi, the MLA from Makhdumpur belonging to the Mahadalit Musahar community, as his replacement.
Reluctantly, the party MLAs acquiesced to Nitish’s decision but they got the resolution passed that specifically said, “Manjhi will remain CM only till the tenure of the present assembly (2010-2015). Nitish Kumar will lead the party’s campaign in the 2015 assembly elections.”
‘Foolish’, ‘stupid’ and ‘orphan’
PM Modi interpreted Nitish’s remark that his “murkhata (foolishness) led him to make Manjhi the CM” as “shameless and humiliation to Manjhi” which the Bihar BJP leaders have picked up to launch a frontal attack on Nitish.
But the fact remains that several JDU cadres were angry at Nitish for demitting office in Majhi’s favour. They weren’t ready to accept it. Outside the 1-Aney Marg, many JDU cadres were heard using the words like “foolish, stupid and obstinate” when they learnt about his decision to make Manjhi the chief minister.
Nitish had emerged as the ‘hero’ of the Mahadalits – a bloc of the poor communities which he had given preferential treatment to in the jobs, panchayat raj bodies and a plethora of other welfare schemes. Manjhi was born and brought up in a Mahadalit community. But no Bihar leader had worked in the interest of the Mahadalits in the manner Nitish had. Even the Mahadalit cadres of the JDU were pained at Nitish getting replaced with Manjhi.
Nitish himself faced the cadres’ angry outbursts when he escorted Manjhi to governor D. Y Patil and returned to stop at the gathering of the exasperated cadres with Manjhi by his side. “We have made you the CM. Who has allowed you to subvert the people’s mandate in favour of your personal choice,” an angry cadre shouted at him. Another screamed, “You have made the people anaath (orphan) by relinquishing the responsibility given by them.”
Some of the cadres were heard using “foolish and stupid” words to describe Nitish’s decision. Nitish pacified them by saying, “I will live with you and work according to your wishes and will. I will lead the party’s campaign again in 2015.”
When Nitish said that he made Manjhi the chief minister out of his “foolishness”, he was merely repeating the words that his cadres had used against him on May 20, 2014. At that time, the pre-Narendra Modi era media was sympathetic to Nitish. A few months before making Manjhi the chief minister, Nitish vacated his chair for Dasrath Manjhi – a Mahadalit cultivator who had cut the rocks with the shovel and spade to make a path in the mountains of Gaya. The media had equated Manjhi’s installation with Nitish’s symbolic gesture for Dasrath Manjhi.
After making Manjhi the chief minister, Nitish formed the Mahagathbandhan with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress and fanned out in the north Bihar’s Champaran region to organise the electorate against the BJP. Jitan Manjhi stayed silent for a few weeks following up on the development work and welfare initiatives that Nitish had undertaken.
But he too embarked on the tours across the state causing embarrassing situations for Nitish by his ‘bizarre’ conduct and utterances. At a public meeting at Darbhanga, he said that a temple was washed after he offered prayer in it and was found wrong by an inquiry committee. He described the upper castes as “foreigners” and the Dalits as “aborigines” and derided the lower caste women who had their husbands working in other cities.
Now, the JDU cadres were up in arms against Manjhi parading on the streets and demanding Nitish to replace him. But when the 2015 assembly elections drew close and the party leadership demanded Majhi to demit the office in favour of Nitish, Manjhi rebelled levelling ‘insult’ to him by the “elitist” JDU.
It was after a long and strenuous effort on the part of Sharad Yadav, Bashishtha Narayan Singh, and others in the party, Manjhi stepped down as the chief minister. But, after he stepped down as chief minister, Jitan Manjhi made his own party – Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) – that aligned with the BJP in the 2015 assembly elections against the Nitish-led JDU-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author, media educator, and independent researcher in folklore.