Dalit pull in Bihar politics

 

by Soroor Ahmed Courtesy DNAIndia.com

 

Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi knows that he is not Paneerselvam. If the latter got the opportunity to become CM of Tamil Nadu once again after 13 years, Manjhi is not sure whether he would be named as the ruling Janata Dal (United) candidate for that post in the assembly elections going to be held 13 months later.

 

Well aware of the fact that his party would once again project Nitish Kumar as its face for the post of the Chief Minister, Manjhi has, rather silently, started cultivating his image as a Dalit –– now called Mahadalit in Bihar ––leader. The ‘temple purification episode’ in Madhubani district of the state only provided him one more opportunity. He knows his limitations as well as strength. As Dalit leaders are at a premium, who knows in the near future he may be of some use for the rival Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance, which, according to the CSDS study, walked away with 42 per cent Scheduled Caste votes against 20 per cent by his own party, JD(U), and 10 per cent by Congress-RJD alliance in the May 2014 Lok Sabha election. The saffron party, in return, trains its gun more on his predecessor, Nitish Kumar, than on him. This was evident even in the case of stampede on the Ravan-dahan day in Patna on October 3 in which 33 people, mostly women and children, lost their lives.

 

After all, till the end of February last, Ram Vilas Paswan was down in the dumps. Even Congress was reluctant to go with him. On May 26, he was back in the Union Cabinet after five long years of political wilderness. It is the same Paswan, who, while resigning from the Vajpayee Cabinet in April 2002, had squarely blamed Narendra Modi for his involvement in the Gujarat riots. If Ram Vilas Paswan, a Dusadh, which is politically, socially and economically the strongest of all Dalit sub-castes of Bihar, can be given so much importance, then why not Manjhi, since he belongs to the weakest of the 22 Scheduled Castes of the state? Coming from the rat-eating community, aptly called Musahar or Bhuniyan, Manjhi has repeatedly been raising the issue of exploitation of Dalits. His September 28 remarks that the Parmeshwaristhan temple in Madhubani district was washed after he had visited it and offered prayer is being interpreted in this light.

 

Though two of his own ministers –– one of them himself a Dalit and who comes from the Rajnagar Assembly constituency where the said temple is situated –– denied that any such thing had happened, the Chief Minister hit back stating that he is not in the habit of telling lies in public. Thus the denial by two of his own ministers has landed the ruling Janata Dal (United) chief in a very embarrassing position. Though Manjhi has asked the divisional commissioner of Darbhanga and zonal inspector general of police to jointly probe the incident, the fact is that this is not the first time he has made any such statement, which touches the sentiments of Dalits. He deliberately chose the birth anniversary of three-time Dalit Chief Minister of Bihar, late Bhola Paswan Shashtri, on September 28 to make this sensational disclosure, though he had visited the temple way back on August 18. He waited for about 40-long days to say that he was, in a way, humiliated by the upper caste Hindus as the temple is situated in the Brahmin-dominated region of north Bihar.

 

As a sizeable number of those who attended Shashtri’s birthday function were Dalits, no other occasion would have been better than this one to show the world how the community is still being mistreated in Bihar.

 

Incidentally, as he was saying so Prime Minister Narendra Modi was telling the American audiences that India is no more the land of snake-charmers and black-magicians, and that the country can proudly claim that it has sent a mission to Mars at very low cost.

 

Manjhi was quick to justify the delay in making the disclosure about temple purification incident. He said that he did not say anything on August 18 as Rajnagar, where the temple is situated, like nine other assembly seats, was going for bypoll. But the by-elections were held on August 21 while the CM spoke 37 days later. He did not stop there but went on to exhort the Dalits to awaken as soon as possible. 

 

However, this is not the first and the only occasion where Manjhi had tried to raise the issue of the exploitation of Dalits. He did so while addressing a function on Teachers’ Day and on a couple of other occasions as well. He once went to the extent of calling upon Dalits to practice inter-caste marriages, which according to his logic, would increase the population of the weakest sections of the society. In recent weeks he had said more than once that if proper Census is done, the population of Dalits in Bihar would not be 15.1 per cent, but something closer to 22 to 23 per cent –– almost on par with that in Uttar Pradesh. 

 

Once he even went to on to say that 22 per cent votes are enough to bring the Dalits into power alone in Bihar. He was obviously referring to the example of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh.

 

The Bihar Chief Minister appealed to the Dalits to give up drinking as it has ruined many families. If they drink they should do so a little bit like medicine after the night meal. Stating that he had not taken a single drop of liquor in 70 years of his life, he, while addressing a conference of Dalits in a Patna neighbourhood said that during childhood he made it a condition to go to school only after his father Ramjit Manjhi gave up drinking.

 

In the same meeting, organised by a Dalit organisation, Manjhi went on to say that he would sit on dharna outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office if funds are not made available for the construction of multi-storeyed houses for Dalits in the urban centres of Bihar. Many such houses were built for Dalits and weaker section of Muslims in Patna during the reign of Lalu Prasad in early 1990s.

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