As Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar embarked on his Sampark Yatra to reinvigorate party workers, chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi staked claim to the Dalit constituency on Wednesday, saying: “Upper castes were foreigners and descendants of Aryan invaders, while the true Indians were the Dalits and the indigenous people.”
Issuing a clear message to tribals and Dalits to close ranks and re-invent their political strength at Bettiah, 300km north-west of Patna, Manjhi asked them to work in tandem for their educational, social and political rights. He took on the mantle of a ‘social reformer’ too, asking the tribals to shun consumption of alcohol and tobacco and go attend school.
“Earlier, the number of tribals was only 1% of state’s population but the percentage has reached 16% after the Tharus were accorded the status of scheduled tribe (ST). The total number of tribals is about 16 lakh in Bihar. Keep away from alcohol and assert your political rights,” Manjhi advised.
After being elected the CM, Manjhi has been asserting his Dalit identity to counter the widespread impression that he was a stopgap chief minister. He has been working to carve out a niche for himself and come out of the shadow of Nitish Kumar. At his public meetings, especially while addressing Dalits and tribals who together number 24% of Bihar’s population, Manjhi has attempted to consolidate his constituency by trying to make them aware of their latent political strength, which could be used if they come together.
The first signs of his political ambition to continue as CM after 2015 assembly polls became evident when he told Dalits at his village Mahkar in Gaya district if 22% Dalits came together and became politically aware, no one could stop a Dalit from continuing as the chief minister.
“This time, I was made chief minister by others under different political circumstances. We constitute around 22% of the state population. If you become more politically aware, you can be in a position to choose a Dalit chief minister by your sheer strength,” Manjhi said.
Manjhi seems to have taken cue from his predecessor Nitish Kumar. While Kumar tried to carve out a vote bank among the Dalits by bracketing 21 out of 22 scheduled castes in Bihar as ‘Mahadalits’, leaving out the powerful Dusadhs (Paswans), Manjhi has gone a step further by calling upon Dalits and tribals to form one single bloc of voters. Manjhi has also tried to draw a bigger line than his predecessor by aiming to form a trans-Dalit constituency along with extremely backward castes (EBCs).
Watch:Bihar CM says upper caste people are foreigners
It became evident when he asked Dalit youth at a function in Patna to raise their numbers through “inter-caste marriages” inside and outside the Dalit community. Manjhi had stoked a controversy when he recalled an incident in which a temple was washed after his visit in course of his bypoll campaign in Madhubani.
He had also attacked other castes, saying that people who came to him for some work felt no qualms about falling at his feet. Many in his own party believe Manjhi is seriously pitching for Dalit consolidation of the kind seen in Uttar Pradesh, under the leadership of BSP leader Mayawati and lead a separate Dalit constituency Bihar has never had. Manjhi is the third Dalit leader to hold the post of chief minister.