PATNA: Former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi landed in a fresh controversy on Saturday when he said Dalits have been treated like “slaves” by Hindu society, especially by the priestly class which treated them as untouchables.
Manjhi, who heads Hindustani Awam Morcha, a constituent of the ruling “Mahagathbandhan”, made the remarks while predicting a comfortable win for candidates of the RJD in by-polls to Mokama and Gopalganj assembly seats, results of which will be declared on Sunday.
A “Musahar” by caste, whose “Mahadalit” identity has been exploited to the hilt by whichever political power he has aligned with, Manjhi was of the view that in both seats Dalits had voted by and large for the seven-party coalition, which he had joined in solidarity with CM Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), snapping ties with the BJP-led NDA earlier this year.
He was asked by journalists whether the BJP had succeeded in making a dent in Dalit votes by playing the “Hindutva” card.
The septuagenarian reacted with annoyance and said “I keep telling Dalits that you think yourself of Hindus but you have been treated as slaves for the past 75 years. Priests are reluctant to perform ceremonies at your place and even when they do, they do not agree to accept food offered by you. Though there are many Brahmins who eat meat and drink”.
The former CM, who cut his teeth in the Congress and has formerly been with the RJD as well as the JD(U), has made such remarks many times in the past, calling himself a follower of Ambedkar, but on some occasions ended up making conciliatory moves like feasts organised by Brahmins.
Meanwhile, the BJP, which is licking its wounds since having lost power in the upheaval of August, reacted with predictable outrage.
“Jitan Ram Manjhi is a respected, elderly leader. He should not be making such statements that insults Hindus and hurts their sentiments. If he does not think he is a Hindu, he should come clean about his own religious identity. If sporting a tilak causes him discomfort, does he want to wear the skullcap? And if he wants to have nothing to do with religion itself, he should first state that and behave accordingly”, said state BJP spokesman and OBC national general secretary, Nikhil Anand.
Other party spokespersons like Ram Sagar Singh and Arvind Kumar Singh came out with angrier statements, alleging that Manjhi’s statements were indicative of “senility”.
Danish Rizwan, the chief spokesman of Manjhi’s party, hit back challenging the BJP to use its political heft and “introduce reservations in the judiciary and ensure greater representation of Dalits in top bureaucratic positions”.
Source: Press Trust of India