'If you are part of NDA, abide by the coalition dharma'

'If you are part of NDA, abide by the coalition dharma and show respect towards other alliance partners'

Jitan Ram Manjhi. Credit: PTI.

Former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi recently re-joined the NDA after singing paeans to his mentor Nitish Kumar. The first Mahadalit leader to become Bihar CM in May 2014, Manjhi has the rare distinction of being a cabinet colleague of seven chief ministers of Bihar in the last four decades. President of the Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM), Manjhi tells DH’s Abhay Kumar that his return to the NDA fold is unconditional and he will, for the rest of his life, stand by Nitish Kumar like a rock.

You were one of the senior-most leaders of the Mahagatbandhan. Why did you leave the RJD-led alliance in a huff?

I joined the Mahagatbandhan hoping that Lalu Prasad’s son and former deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav, a young leader, could usher in rapid transformation in the state if he comes to power. Tejashwi looked promising. But once I joined the RJD-led alliance, I realised my folly. The RJD had not changed one bit. From Lalu-Rabri era to Tejashwi era, it remains the same loot and scam-tainted party. During the recent Rajya Sabha election, it became all the more apparent when moneybags got more weightage than genuine party leaders. Similar was the case during the 2019 Lok Sabha election. So is the case with the ensuing Assembly election. The RJD has shown no sign of improving its tainted image. It was better to sever ties with such leaders who promote only family and talk about dynasty.

But the RJD has made similar charges (of promoting family) against you and said that you joined the Mahagatbandhan only because you wanted your son to be made an MLC?

If my son Santosh Suman has become an MLC, it’s due to his merit. Mera beta koi saatwa pass nahin hain (My son is not a Class VII-pass politician). He is a PhD.

You had worked under six CMs before becoming Bihar CM yourself in May 2014. You have also worked closely with Tejashwi Yadav…

First, a correction. In the last four decades, I had worked under seven CMs -- Chandrashekhar Singh, Bindeshwari Dubey, Satyendra Narain Sinha, Jagannath Mishra, Lalu Prasad, Rabri Devi and Nitish Kumar -- before becoming CM myself. Tejashwi is not a patch on Nitish Kumar. Can anyone deny that it was Nitish ji who established the rule of law in a lawless state and put the state back on the fast track of development? Ask anyone how Bihar was before 2005. The annual budget of the state in 2005 was Rs 22,000 crore.

Today, Bihar’s budget is more than Rs 2 lakh crore, a quantum jump in the last 15 years. If someone can’t see how IIT-Patna, IIM-Bodh Gaya, Chanakya Law University, Chandragupta Institute of Management, NIFT, two central universities, road connectivity and several mega bridges came up, then you are turning a blind eye towards the huge development that has taken place in the last one-and-a-half decades.

Suddenly, you are showering encomiums on your mentor Nitish Kumar, with whom you had a running feud ever since he threw you out of the JD(U) when you refused to resign as CM in February 2015. Now that you have shifted your allegiance and joined the Nitish-led alliance, what exactly is the deal?

No deal at all. My re-joining NDA is unconditional and my loyalty towards Nitish unflinching. I have never asked for X number of seats or Y post. I will work under Nitish’s stewardship and stand by him like a rock for the rest of my life.

Is that why you admonished LJP president Chirag Paswan when he questioned Nitish poor law and order, migrant workers’ plight and Covid-19? You even targeted his father Ram Vilas Paswan and questioned what the senior Paswan has done for his Dalit community.

Forget media reports. Can anyone deny that it was Nitish who made Manjhi the first Mahadalit (the most marginalised section within the society) Chief Minister of Bihar? It will take reams of newsprint to tell you what Nitish has done for the Mahadalits and Dalits since 2005...So, my unsolicited advice to the young LJP chief Chirag Paswan is: You are young and promising. But don’t spoil your future by slamming leaders of the stature of Nitish.

If you are part of the NDA, abide by the coalition dharma and show respect towards other alliance partners. It’s just not possible that your father remains a senior minister in the NDA government and you keep speaking against the NDA. My personal feeling is that one should not sail in two boats at a time. Chirag has time and age. His time will come. At present, he should desist from speaking against the Bihar CM.

After you dumped Mahagatbandhan, one of your former allies, Upendra Kushwaha (ex-Union minister and RLSP president), is also likely to follow suit. Reports suggest he, like you, is nursing grudges and questioning Tejashwi’s leadership. Is Kushwaha, too, preparing the ground to join the NDA bandwagon?

Honestly, I have no idea about Kushwaha’s next move. Whether Kushwaha will join the NDA or not is for the top leadership to decide. I am not competent to even hazard a guess.