Caste is his comrade: Manjhi wields Dalit officers to gain grip over Bihar

  • Rai Atul Krishna, Hindustan Times, Patna
  • Updated: Jan 11, 2015 15:12 IST

As he pursues a markedly pro-Dalit agenda to move out of the shadow of his predecessor Nitish Kumar, Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi is 'doing a Mayawati' to come to grips with levers of power.

Following in the footsteps of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Manjhi has been placing his co-Dalits in key administrative positions to consolidate his position as CM.

Into only his eighth month as head of the government, Manjhi has already appointed at least a dozen Dalit IAS and IPS officers to crucial positions in order to obtain de facto command over the state administration.

In doing so, Manjhi - Bihar's third Dalit CM after Bhola Paswan Shastri (three short terms between June 1968 and Jan 1972) and Ram Sunder Das (April 1979-Feb 1980) - has replaced key Nitish officers by his own men.

"Manjhi is pursuing the Dalits-have-numbers-will-rule model of BSP founder Kanshi Ram. Having Dalit officers in key positions is crucial to his agenda," said PK Sinha, ex-chief of Bihar gazetted officers' association and a former MLC, who was once close to Nitish.

Posting of Dalit officers on key positions started as soon as Manjhi took over as CM in May last year after Nitish resigned following the ruling JD (U)'s 'two out of 40 seats' Lok Sabha poll show in Bihar.

Manjhi was chosen for the post as he was regarded as a 'pliant' leader with not much of a following of his own. But the pursuit of an agenda of Dalit unity appears to have enabled him to create a constituency of his own.

Among the most critical of his Dalit postings was the appointment last week of Sudhir Kumar, a 1987 batch IAS officer, as principal secretary (home). Kumar replaced Amir Subhani, who was holding the position for the past six years.

This came on the back of the appointment of Amrik Singh Nimbran, a retired Dalit IPS officer, as the security advisor to the CM.

This was a new post created for Nimbran, a Dalit employees' union leader while he was in service.

Another Dalit IPS officer given a key security position was additional director general of police Sunil Kumar (1987 batch). He has been given charge of special branch, which handles the CM's security, and of the CID.

Sources in the state bureaucracy said these postings had given Manjhi a firm grip over the police administration and are critical for him to 'control' Bihar and succeed as the state's ruler.

Manjhi voiced his keenness to deliver the goods at a public meeting in Jehanabad on Saturday. He said it was important for him to succeed, as his failure would send out the message that the downtrodden could not rule.

Another Dalit IAS officer important to Manjhi's agenda is Atish Chandra (1994 batch), secretary in the CM's secretariat. Appointed to the post by Nitish (in August 2012), Chandra is a confidant of Manjhi now.

Manjhi's confidence in Chandra was confirmed when, in June last year, less than a month after becoming CM, he gave Chandra additional charge of the information and public relations department (IPRD).

The IPRD is crucial in that it handles the CM's publicity and plays a crucial role in building the government's image.

Chandra's wife, Anupama S Nilekar, holds the important position of inspector general of police (headquarters).

As critical an appointment last week was of Amrit Lal Meena as principal secretary to the chief minister.

"Meena is a scheduled tribe officer. But he is on the same page as the Dalit officers by way of depressed classes consciousness," said an IAS officer known to him.

Manjhi has also taken a firm grip over the administration of Patna district, which covers the state capital and seat of the state administration, by placing Dalit officers at its helm. Earlier, officers close to Nitish held these positions.

Narmadeshwar Lal (1998 batch), who hails from Manjhi's native Gaya district, holds additional charge as the Patna division commissioner even though he has been made secretary, building construction department.

Manjhi also appointed Amrendra Kumar Ambedkar, a Dalit IPS officer from Jehanabad, as inspector general of police, Patna Zone. Abhay Kumar Singh, appointed district magistrate of Patna last October, is a Dalit officer.

Other Dalit officers given charge of key positions during Manjhi's seven month tenure are B Rajendra (urban development and housing secretary), Deepak Prasad (secretary, tourism) and S Sidharth (secretary, labour resources).

"Jitan Manjhi has ushered in Dalit consciousness in Bihar like no other leader has done before. Dalits are solidly behind him and look upon him as their hope for a better future," said Uday Manjhi.

As chairman of Bihar mahadalit commission, which looks after the interest of poorest among Dalits, Uday Manjhi's is an important voice. A Nitish appointee, he is now firmly on the side of his co-Dalit CM.

If one were to be looking for evidence of the coming of age of Jitan Manjhi as a Dalit leader, here it is.

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