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Manjhi wriggles out of Nitish shadow

Patna, Aug. 14: Jitan Ram Manjhi has not emerged as the “Rabri Devi II” everybody predicted when Nitish Kumar chose him as his successor.

Those in political circles thought he would be remote controlled and, like Rabri, sign on the dotted line. But, three months later, even BJP leaders, privately admit Manjhi is no Rabri and has openly taken stands that inconvenience Nitish’s followers.

“Politically, he (Manjhi) cannot replace Nitish. But he has created a space for himself. More than once, he has expressed his views, at variance with those of Nitish and team,” said a senior BJP leader.

Manjhi kicked off a controversy recently when he declared publicly that even he, as MLA, had once paid Rs 5,000 in bribe to rectify an overcharged Rs 25,000 power bill. On Thursday, he clarified he was not talking about the Nitish era but of 1994. But he did not go back on his statement that officials continued to take bribe while party workers were denied access to government. “It has touched a raw nerve, as Nitish, as chief minister, relied on officials and never interacted with party workers,” said a party MLA.

This was not the first time Manjhi differed with Nitish loyalists. Manjhi had sought pardon for those who voted against JDU’s Rajya Sabha candidates, while Nitish advocated their disqualification. “Manjhi has never discriminated against us,” said a dissident.

During the budget session, when JDU MLAs stalled proceedings over a Haryana BJP leader’s remark, Manjhi disapproved of it. “It’s not the job of ruling party MLAs to go inside the well of the House and disrupt proceedings,” he had remarked at a business advisory committee meeting in the Speaker’s chamber.

MLAs were as surprised when Manjhi heard their pleas for posting favoured officials. “Under Nitish, no MLA dared ask for an official’s transfer. Because of Manjhi, officials have begun to respect MLAs,” a JDU leader said.

Manjhi has made it clear he is no rubber stamp chief minister. “He told some officials reluctant to carry out his orders that he and not Nitish signs official files,” said a senior official. But despite his independence, said a senior JDU leader: “He knows it is Nitish who made him chief minister. That is why when the alliance with the RJD came up, he said Nitish was the natural choice for chief minister.”


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