In an exclusive interview, the Bihar Chief Minister opens up about his ambitions and his views on the emerging political situation in the state that goes to polls in 2015.

Jitan Ram Manjhi (70) became chief minister of Bihar after Nitish Kumar quit in May 2014 owning moral responsibility for Janata Dal (United)’s rout in the Lok Sabha election. Hailing from the Mahadalit Musahar community, Mr Manjhi has charted a course of his own in the last seven months. In an exclusive interview, he opens up about his ambitions and his views on the emerging political situation in the state that goes to polls in 2015.
2014 was the year of Mr Modi and BJP in Bihar. Do you think you will be able to stop the BJP from capturing Bihar in 2015 election?
We have thought this through and are working to a plan in the state. In 2014, people thought it was not about Bihar or Nitish Kumar, but was about Delhi and Modi. There were several reasons for this, and one significant factor was Modi’s propaganda that included false promises, lies and false allegations. The poor people of Bihar fell for it to some extent, and the BJP won a lot of seats. But they did not get as much votes. They got just above 30 percent votes. Those of us, who are today together, and were separate then, got much more votes than the BJP.
The lotus will not bloom here; lotus will wilt in Bihar
People of Bihar have now begun to ask Modi, where is the fifteen lakh rupees that was promised to be given to each family after bringing back black money? Where is the special status promised to Bihar? Where are the promised jobs? Not only that the PM failed to give Bihar anything special including the special category status, he is also drastically reducing the state’s allocations under various centrally sponsored schemes. The annual plan of the state was reduced from 57000 crore to 49000 crore? Indira Awaaz Yojana target was reduced from six lakh units to 2.4 lakhs. The situation is similar with other schemes such as MNREGA. Under the food security act, we were expecting Rs 1500 crore but it never came. National highways in the state were not repaired, and the state government had spent around Rs 1000 crore on them, but the centre is not reimbursing now. So, Bihar is being subjected to step-motherly treatment. People understand this. The lotus will not bloom here; lotus will wilt in Bihar.
So you are confident that Mr Modi no longer fascinates the people of Bihar?
100 per cent. If the Congress had managed to hold on a bit more, even in 2014 things would not have been this good for the BJP. Inflation and corruption did the Congress in. So here, on the one hand you have Modiji who is rescinding on all his promises — not only that he is not doing any good, but also is he doing a lot of bad things. One the other hand, we have a government in the state that is not only continuing with the development initiatives of Nitish Kumar-ji, but even surpassing his achievements. The choice will be very clear for the people of Bihar.
In the seven months that you have been in power, you appear keen to establish an identity of your own, independent of Nitish Kumar. Do you have a politics different from Nitish Kumar’s?
I must preface that I have no competition with Nitish-ji. There is a general perception that the Scheduled Caste people, the Maha Dalits, are weak and useless. Look at the way in which media twist what I say. It is an attitude, a mindset. Therefore, I am very keen that whatever I do for whatever duration of time should bring honour to my (Mahadalit) community. Therefore, I did many things in social sector that even Nitish Kumar could not do. In the fields of education, women’s empowerment, in offering special protection to the SCs, I did certain things that Nitish-ji did not do. We have established a foundation in the name of the Bhabha Sahab Ambedkar and allotted Rs 25 crore to it. There was a commission that Nitishji had appointed to look into the issues of poor among the forward caste people that had gone into a slumber. I have told them to get their acts together in a time-bound manner or leave. I repeat that I have no competition with Nitish Kumar, but we are doing many things that he could not do.
But you have only a few months more in power. Are you pitching yourself as the chief minister for another term?
I am not a politician. I never thought of becoming the CM. Now that I have become, people are saying that I am doing a good job. Many people were sceptial whether Jitan Ram Majhi could be any good. No we are doing such good that the sceptics are forced to accept the reality. I am now playing a 20-20 match and my commitment is to Nitish Kumarji.
The question is whether you would like to play a test match now?
I have no expectations. But if it comes, I will not run away. Otherwise people will say these people (Mahadalits) run away from responsibility. As I said already, I will not allow my community to be defamed by my actions.
Regardless of you staying on as the CM, your loyalty to Mr Nitish Kumar will be permanent?
Certainly. He gave me the opportunity. He did it only because of his sensitivity towards social justice. I was not a sycophant; in fact I used to meet him once in several months. He should not have resigned in the first place, but it was his greatness that he chose someone like me as successor after the party authorised him to select a person. So my loyalty to him would be life-long.
You said that your politics has taken forward Nitish Kumar’s politics, particularly in the social sector. From that perspective, would you say that you, a Maha Dalit, should continue as CM after the next election also?
The poor make a caste in itself but the majority of the poor are Dalits and extremely backward caste people. I tell my people that if you stay united, you will get power. I also tell them that they should not allow the CM’s post that has come their way, to slip away. It is my desire that even if I am not the CM, it would be better to have a Maha Dalit as the CM of Bihar.
You and Nitish Kumar are talking only through public statements. Is there anything wrong between the two of you?
It is not that we don’t talk to each other. I haven’t asked his opinion on what I am doing, but he has never said anything opposed to what I am doing. Silence is consent, as I understand it. It is his greatness that he allows me to do what I do.
The other person in the equation is Mr Lalu Yadav. Do you think he would also like to see a Maha Dalit continue as the CM?
When Laluji supported my government, we had not asked for the support. He offered the support on his own. I am certain that he would have taken into account the fact that it was a maha dalit chief minister. Laluji stands up for me always.
How will it help if and when JDU, RJD and the Samajwadi Party, all merge?
That is the necessity of the time. The country should be saved; secularism must be protected. BJP should be defeated. In the by-elections in ten assembly seats in November, we proved that all of us, and Congress could achieve this. It is a very forward-looking move by Laluji, Nitishji and Mulayamji to come together. It will be the golden age of Bihar when Laluji and Nitishji come together. Laluji did not do any development while in power, but his achievements in people’s empowerment were unprecedented. Nitishi-ji added development to politics. Their combination will be the best thing to happen to Bihar.
But there are tensions between the social groups that support the JDU and RJD. How will these play out in an alliance?
There may be fights inside our house, but when our house itself is under attack by someone else, we will stop those fights to defeat the common enemy. The big fight is to protect constitutional India. Do we want to meddle with Article 370? Do we want tensions over uniform civil code? Do we want strife over building a temple?
You have been with the Congress, the RJD and now you are with the JDU. From what you said so far, could I conclude that you will never have anything to do with the BJP?
I have no religion or caste. I go to temples and masjids to keep people happy. Can I accept politics that argue that everyone worship the Ganga, everyone worship certain gods in a particular way or do this or don’t do that. Do you think I can adjust with the BJP? You only find the answer.
You said, you are telling your people to not let the CM’s post slip away. How are they responding?
If the feedback that I get is correct, there is a huge awakening among the poor people. Wherever I go, huge crowds gather. At some places 10,000, some places even 50,000. People are interested in what I say; they want to listen to me. I am not particularly excited by this, but I do want to leave a legacy. I want to prove that a Mahadalit can also run a government, and efficiently so.