Why was the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) so determined to remove Jitan Ram Manjhi as chief minister of Bihar? It was a question on everybody’s lips as Manjhi, though virtually unknown, was Kumar’s pick to lead the state last May, with some analysts suggesting the puppeteer had picked a puppet to do his bidding.
But it soon became obvious Manjhi was his own man when he tried to transfer pro-Nitish bureaucrats and tried to project himself as a Dalit icon in Bihar, which many in political circles saw as evoking caste passions.
"While I am committed to the roadmap laid by my mentor Nitish Kumar for the development of Bihar, there are bureaucrats, who will not listen to me," said the Mahadalit leader. "I work for the poor. There are those, who will not let it be."
Unfazed, he went on to exhort Dalits to “realise their own power and stand up and fight” in meeting after meeting last September. At the same time, he took several pro-poor decisions and continued to hit out at what he called the corrupt ministerial-bureaucrat-contractor nexus as well as stonewalling of the poor by babus at village levels, sometimes even levelling charges against cabinet ministers.
But the main reason Manjhi fell out of favour was political. His rising stock among the huge Dalit segment, a constituency created politically by Nitish Kumar as a caste-free group, made rival groups jittery. Manjhi's ouster threatens RJD, Congress; BJP stays calm
Signs that the BJP was cosying up to him and the growth of a dissident group close to him created unease, especially since Manjhi had stopped taking instructions from Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar supporters also highlighted the state’s failing law and order and frequent administrative changes to demand his ouster.
"But the original question still remains still unanswered," says Ram Vilas Paswan. "Why should Manjhi be removed by the same JD-U and Nitish Kumar who nominated him chief minister, when all that he did was to try to govern?"
Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s has the answer. "Had he not been a Dalit leader with such a free spirit, he would have hardly been questioned."