Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, 70, may not have the aura of more charismatic leaders who have preceded him.
But when it comes to his politics, the ever humble politician is pretty consummate behind the self-deprecating, effacing self that he likes to wear on his sleeve. But behind that appearance, he carries a sharp, political mind — mixing the raw, grassroots politics of his own experience with the suave temperament of chief ministers of the time he worked with as minister.
A post graduate from Magadh University, who also served as a member of the syndicate six times, Manjhi still loves to live with his roots, even tilling crops and planning the next kharif or rabi season in his village, Mahakar.
“He still brooms the ancestral houses, enjoys a joke with farm hands in the fields and shares his breakfast and lunch, sitting in the fields with villagers”, said Baleshwar Prasad, a relative.
Manjhi’s political essay started in 1980, when his ‘benefactor’ Nitish Kumar — who handed him over the chief ministership on May 20, 2013, after his massive defeat in the Lok Sabha — was just on the fringes of politics.
Born on October 6, 1944, to Ramjit Ram Manjhi and Sukri Devi, both farm labourers, he had experienced the feudal society, which he never fails to recall.
Manjhi left his job as a telephone line man to win his first election to assembly in 1980 from Fatehpur on a Congress ticket. But it is in 2005 that he moved to
Janata Dal (United) where, “unexpectedly”, he admits, he was pitch-forked as chief minister.
“Nitishji is a nice man. I am indebted that he gave me the chance. I keep no other picture in my room, but Kumar’s, even now (despite the break in relationship)”, he told the media on Sunday.