He has switched sides more than you can vividly remember. Talk of Bihar's political landscape and there he is -- Jitan Ram Manjhi, a low-profile leader who has garnered attention every election with his astounding political choices. Once a key ally of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Manjhi who had contested the 2019 national election as part of the opposition alliance, has now partnered with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar. The former chief minister, also the chief of Dalit-centric Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), is seeking re-election from Imamganj constituency in Gaya. Manjhi is among the star campaigners of NDA.
In a blow to the opposition's bid to defeat the NDA, Jitan Ram Manjhi quit the Grand Alliance in August, 2020. Ever since his exit, political watchers sensed Manjhi could veer towards the NDA alliance once again. And that's what happened. Manjhi met Nitish Kumar, weighing in on the speculations about his return to the NDA. In September 2020, the former CM joined the NDA in Bihar, while insisting that he was not going to "merge" into the Janata Dal (United). He said that his return to the NDA was without any preconditions.
In Bihar, Dalits are over 16 per cent of the electorate and about 40 seats in the 243-member house are reserved for them, and in such a scenario Manjhi's comeback could be an advantage for the ruling alliance.
Jitan Ram Manjhi was sworn in as Bihar's 23rd Chief Minister on May 20, 2014 at the wish of Nitish Kumar. Before his oath as the CM, Manjhi was a cabinet minister in the Nitish Kumar-led government. However, in just nine months post his swearing-in, Manjhi was asked to resign to make way for Nitish to return as the CM. However, Manjhi refused, following which he was expelled from the JD(U) on February 9, 2015. Since then, Nitish and Manjhi parted ways and treaded on different political paths.
Later, he formed the HAM(S) and contested 21 seats in the 2015 assembly election in Bihar as an NDA constituent. Exhibiting poor electoral performance, his party could win only one seat in the polls. As Kumar returned to the NDA fold in July 2017, Manjhi walked out of it to join hands with the RJD-led opposition grouping. Manjhi's party drew a blank in the 2019 elections as a RJD-Congress ally.
In the Bihar battleground, Jitan Ram Manjhi will be contesting from the Imamganj seat. In the first list of seven candidates, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) fielded Jyoti Devi from Barachatti, Shravan Bhuyan from Kutumba, Rajendra Yadav from Kasba, Prafulla Manjhi from Sikandra, former minister Anil Kumar from Tekari and Devendra Manjhi from Makhdumpur. Devendra Manjhi is the former chief minister's son-in law and Devi an associate.
Meanwhile, Nitish Kumar himself came out to campaign in the favour of Jitan Ram Manjhi at a political rally in the state. It was quite significant as both the leaders were sharing the stage for the first time after their bitter break-up in 2015. Nitish, infact, sought votes for his friend-turned-foe-turned-friend.
Born in the small village of Mahkar in Khijrasarai of Gaya, Manjhi entered into politics early, with his brother. He comes from a Mahadalit community known as Musahar, traditionally rat catchers. Manjhi's father Ramjit Ram was an agricultural labourer. He himself used to work in the fields during his childhood days. Manjhi, passionate towards education, completed studies till class 7 without attending school. Later, he took admission in a High School and went on to graduate in History from Gaya College in 1967. During his student days, he was an active CPI member. Manjhi took up the job of clerk with Posts and Telegraph department in 1968 but quit in 1980 to join Congress.