| Chief minister-designate Jitan Ram Manjhi with wife Shanti Devi during a vacation in Kedarnath in 2013. Picture by Suman |
A soft-spoken minister in the Bindeshwari Dubey government in 1985, Jitan Ram Manjhi was taken by surprise on Monday when the outgoing chief minister, Nitish Kumar, asked him to step into his shoes.
Honest to the core, he was a low profile minister in 1985, when Nitish entered the Assembly for the first time. Almost three decades on, his integrity has remained the same. But now he has the challenge of running the state after Nitish’s “good governance”.
Unfortunately, Manjhi courted controversy when he was a junior minister in the higher education department under Rabri Devi between 1995 and 2000. He was chargesheeted by the state vigilance bureau in the BEd scam for allegedly giving approval to ineligible institutes to run the teaching course. The senior minister then, Jai Prakash Narain Yadav (who recently won from Banka as the RJD candidate), was a co-accused.
When Nitish took oath as the chief minister in 2005, Manjhi was sworn in as a minister. But he had to be dropped the same day as the Opposition pointed out that he had faced a corruption case. Nitish inducted him in the ministry again after he was given a clean chit. Since then, Nitish has had immense confidence in Manjhi. He gave him the charge of the Mahadalit mission, which included giving radios and land to Mahadalits.
Hailing from the Musahar section of Dalits, recognised as Mahdalits by the Nitish government, sixty-eight-year old Manjhi comes from Mahakar village under Khisersarai police station in Gaya. After graduating, he got a job in the Gaya telephone exchange.
Manjhi started his political career with the Congress. He first contested the Assembly elections from the Fatehpur segment in Gaya district on the ticket of the Congress in 1980. He won the 1985 elections from the same constituency but lost in 1990 by a slender margin of just 184 votes. During his term as the Congress MLA, he was made the state revenue minister.
Later, Manjhi joined the RJD and contested Assembly polls from Barachatti in Gaya district in 1995 and won. He remained an MLA for two terms on the RJD ticket. During the RJD regime, he was the state education minister.
Since 2005, Manjhi is in the JD(U). He won from Barachatti in 2005 and from Makhdumpur in Jehanabad district in 2010. For the first time in the JD(U) government he was made a cabinet minister. He held the SC/ST welfare portfolio.
Baleshwar Prasad, a relative of Manjhi, told The Telegraph that the chief minister designate was still a humble person. He visits his village at least twice a month even now.
Manjhi’s father Ramjit Ram Manjhi and mother Sukri Devi worked as farm labourers. He spent his childhood in poverty. But his father knew the importance of education and arranged for every possible facility for his studies. As a result, Manjhi could become a graduate.
“His lifestyle is very simple. When he visits his native village, he sits along the farmland and monitors sowing of seeds. Often he takes breakfast and lunch there. He does not hesitate from picking up a broom and cleaning his ancestral houses. Dhoti and kurta is his favourite dress,” Baleshwar said.
Father of five daughters and two sons, Manjhi has paid due attention to studies of his children. His eldest daughter Sunayana Devi is a councillor from ward number 1 of Gaya Municipal Corporation. His three other daughters — Prabha Devi, Baby Kumari and Pramila Kumari — are housewives. Another daughter, Ruby Kumari, is a superintendent of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
Son Santosh Kumar Suman is a PhD. Another son, Praveen Kumar, is studying. Manjhi has done remarkable work for the growth of the downtrodden. “The Dashrath Manjhi Kaushal Vikas Yojana is his brainchild,” Baleshwar said.