Mainstream, VOL LII, No 49, November 29, 2014
In-laws and Outlaws: Travails of Bihar CM Jitanram Manjhi
Monday 1 December 2014, by
The righteous hype in the print and electronic media in the first week of November 2014 targeting Jitanram Manjhi, the Bihar Chief Minister, seemed a little out of proportion, if not unprecedented. The big story is that his son-in-law was appointed his personal assistant and nephew a peon. Their orders of appointment, issued by the government in the Cabinet Secretariat department, were violative of the rules in place. The Cabinet Secretariat was, however, free to point out the mistake and pre-empt the unwarranted embarr-assment to the Chief Minister. If depar-tmental objection was overruled by the Chief Minister, he could be held guilty of irregularity or arbitrariness. Here lies clearly the departmental culpability.
With a screeching headline, The Economic Times, November 5, 2014, declared: “Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi appoints son-in-law Devendra Kumar as Personal Assistant”. Under a cryptic heading The Times of India teased: ”CM forgets law for son-in-law” while The Telegraph, Calcutta, went after him, saying: “Govt outlaw for CM son-in-law”. Notables like The Hindu,The Free Press Journal, The Daily Bhaskar, The Statesman, too joined in the chorus of his denouncement. Almost all of these powerful English dailies are published from multiple stations. Side by side the electronic media provided ballistic cover. NDTV, Times Now, India TV, Zee News, YouTube, a few of the English medium channels, were in the frontline of the offensive. The role of the vernacular language newspapers and TV channels too was in no way negligible. Their well-orchestrated objective seems more than mere dissemination of information.
This is not to defend or support the Chief Minister. But anybody with an iota of knowledge of the long prevailing politico-administrative culture in Bihar must be aware that such questions are rarely raised even in the face of rules and orders of the government. Ministers, MPs, MLAs, and some senior officers routinely demand personal staff belonging to their respective castes. Their requisitions include PSO (Personal Security Officer), house guards, personal secretary, personal assistant, drivers, gardeners, depending on their entitlements. Some of the Ministers brazenly ask for officers of their own caste as departmental secretaries. Many MPs, MLAs or Ministers nonchalantly try to get—apna admi albeit castemen—posted as BDO and Anchal Adhikari (Circle Officer), daroga or officer in charge of the police station(s) falling within their constituencies. The powerful ones also try to pack other field offices of Education, PWD, Irrigation, Transport, Forests, Excise, Sales Tax, Co-operative, Food and Civil Supplies, Fisheries, Health, etc. by caste men. Efforts of an MP of North Bihar, an inquiry revealed, resulted in posting of the full compliment of personnel, all his castemen—from postmaster to dak peon—of the post office in his locality. Their collective mischief latched with dereliction of duty drove an educated Dalit into the vortex of the Naxalite movement. He rose to the top echelon of its leadership.
The leader’s esteem in his community goes up, like icing on the cake, if, by his endeavours, the DM or SP are apna admi, posted in the area. Similarly posting of their castemen as Sub-Divisional Officers/Sub-Collector, Deputy Super-intendents of Police in the constituency adds to his influence. Information of the caste identity of officers gets due publicity even before they join the new office. It is not uncommon that officers receive jubilant reception at their places of new station if they belong to the dominant caste. All classes of employees of the leader’s caste, on the other hand, stand to benefit through their political blessings, albeit interventions, in the face of disciplinary action, charges of corruption, transfers to inconvenient places, or support in seeking plump posts, etc.
Jitanram Manjhi is helpless. He did not have many alternatives for appointing his personal assistant. Over three decades beginning with 1973 in the Bihar bureaucracy, I did not come across a solitary Bihar Administrative Officer or Police Service Officer, an MBBS, a college/university teacher, who is a Musahar, the caste of the CM. An IAS, IPS, or Income Tax Officer is a far cry though their strength is about three million now. The literacy of Musahars in 2001 was in single digit, below four per cent, which was the lowest in Bihar, if not in India.
In the early 1980s, a few of us—Director, Joint and Additional Secretaries in the Higher Education Department—during lunch break would speculate or bet as to what favours, if at all, would Chief Minister Ram Sundar Das or Dr Jagannath Mishra seek from the Education Secretary. The latter with known interests and deep involvement in higher education, we felt, would ask for half-a-dozen offices each of Vice-Chancellors, Pro-Vice-Chancellors and Registrars, scores of deans of faculties in State universities, umpteen number of college principals besides directors of academies, research institutes, heads of medical, engineering and technical institutes, etc. for filling up with his castemen, all of whom would be hailed as competent without question. However, Ram Sundar Das, we were also unanimous, would ask the Education Secretary for appointment of mere one or two persons of his caste as peons. Jitanram Manjhi proved the point to the hilt three decades down the line! Lack of education in their respective castes makes the difference, which renders him vulnerable.
Blighting Caste Politics
Bihar is a proverbial butt of jokes in the media and academic discourses across India since long. A glimpse of caste can be had from historical records of post-colonial Bihar left by two stal-warts. In 1957, their virulent exchange of letters in the columns of now defunct The Searchlight, Patna is an eye-opener. One was the socialist leader, Jayaprakash Narayan (October 11, 1902-October 8, 1979), whose reverberating call for Sampoorn Kranti or total revolution made him a legendary figure. The other was Dr Srikrishna Sinha (October 21, 1887-January 31, 1961), Bihar’s Prime Minister in the colonial era and Chief Minister after 1947. While the former was reverently referred to as Lok Nayak JP, the latter as Shri Babu, Bihar Keshari.
Bhumihar Raj, Purchase of MLAs—Bihar, Original Home of Ayarams and Gayarams?
On July 27, 1957, JP wrote to Shri Babu: “You know better than me how degraded the politics of the State has become, how much corruption has crept in, how much internal bickering exists and to what extent casteism has permeated it. The rivalry between you and Anugrah Babu (Anugrah Narayan Sinha) spreading over years is the root of the present unfortunate state of Bihar Congress. It is this rivalry, which is responsible for the dangerous shape that casteism has taken today. No one in Bihar will deny that neither Anugrah Babu nor you have any caste feeling. But in spite of this your government is called ‘Bhumihar Raj’ and Anugrah Babu was looked upon as leader of Rajputs.”1 (Italicised by this writer)
Under the Government of India Act 1935, Dr Shrikrishna Sinha ruled Bihar first as the Premier from July 20, 1937 to October 31, 1939 and then as the first Chief Minister from 1946 to 19612 which together makes an unbroken record of administration of seventeen years. This was a unique opportunity for the Chief Minister to reshape and redesign to fate and fortune of the people. His government instead earned the sobriquet as Bhumihar Raj when the moral and idealistic moorings of sacrifice and service still lingered in the aftermath of the independence! There is perhaps no parallel to this that a whole government was hijacked for a community. The Bhumihar Raj ipso facto means “rule of the caste, by the caste and for the caste”. Had it come from someone morally and ideologically less towering or committed than JP, the statement could be trashed as scandal-mongering. The caste raj was built unobtrusively brick by brick over months and years with toil and unfettered dedication to ultimately catch inexorable public attention. It is was in 1956 that Paul Henson Appleby (September 13, 1891-October 1963), a US consultant of public administration, had praised Bihar as the second best administered State of India. Educated Biharis are rightfully proud for this fact. It is correct to say, foreigners, even though scholars without long experience as residents in India, acquire little insight into the dynamics of caste.
JP’s letter throws a flood of light on Bihar’s caste, corruption, bribery besides social animosity between two dominant castes—Rajputs and Bhumihars. Rarely do they sail in the same boat. Their enmity assumed epic proportions and shows no signs of abatement yet. JP was very confident and clear in his expectation from the Chief Minister. “I think a golden opportunity has presented itself to you. The present situation demands exceptional ability from you. If you wish, the whole poisonous atmosphere so full of suspicion can become clear and free from conflict. If in your life-time this poison cannot be eliminated who else will can do it in future? Casteism like a poisonous creeper has already covered the whole of Bihar. You alone can uproot it.” 3
The accusation of “purchasing” MLAs “with large amount money” was voiced against Shri Babu “during the last leadership contest”. Some people were flown “to Jamshedpur by plane to bring money” for the horse-trading. Funds of two industrial houses were utilised in the nefarious numbers game.4
JP highlighted the political development which now is a cancerous threat to Indian democracy. The political monsters, Ayarams and Gayarams in embryonic shape, were conceptualised, pre-fabricated and utilised in the fertile plains of Gangetic Bihar whence they were imported by Haryana to embrace indelible notoriety. The Prime Minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao, too used it. In many other States, parties found the shame useful in political brinkmanship. A colourful feather in Bihar’s political cap!
JP had thrown up his charges with solid proofs in his letter. Mahesh Prasad Sinha and Krishnaballabh Sahay, wrote JP in the same letter, “were two of your dearest lieutenants. Krishna-ballabh Babu is no longer in agreement with you. Both of them were defeated in elections. Because Mahesh Babu is your supporter, he has been appointed chairman of the State Khadi Board, given a bungalow, provided with peons and a telephone and other facilities. Later on, he was also made the treasurer of the BPCC [Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee]. That is to say every effort was made to build him up. Krishna Ballabh Babu, in spite of all his service to Bihar and Congress, is nobody now. There is no place for him in your scheme of things.”5 Mahesh Babu was a Bhumihar and Krishnaballabh Babu a Kayasth as JP. This is normal in politico-administrative culture in Bihar. The castemen of the Chief Minister squeeze advantages in every sphere, causing envy and heart-burning in official circles and public. Long ago, Dr Ambedkar had dissected the Hindu mindset and observed that the Hindu leader’s public is his caste.
This mindset played havoc when one of them went to Delhi and joined the Union Cabinet. As a Finance Minister, elected from Jharkhand, he was alleged to pack his Ministry with officers of his caste from the Bihar-Jharkhand cadres so much so that the Ministry was pejoratively referred in the corridors of power as Brajkrishore Path. Brajkirshore was a prominent Kayasth leader of Saran district.
After a month, the Chief Minister returned the compliment to JP. Shrikrishna Sinha wrote: “According to you, I want to advance Mahesh Babu and prevent Krishnaballabh Babu from going ahead, and in this I am not following a good principle. From what you have said, it seems that perhaps you too could not rise above the vitiated and suspicion-ridden atmosphere of the State while assessing the situation in the province. You also lent an ear to the bazaar gossips and accepted some and rejected others in keeping with your predilections, may be unconsciously. It is perhaps due to this reason that in your letter there is an indication of your efforts to lower Mahesh Babu and raise Krishnaballabh Babu now.” 6
In essence the Chief Minister rebuffed and accused JP for promoting Kayasths. When two prominent leaders quarrelled, some dirty truth gushed out in the public domain to the shock of the countrymen. It is the powerful and dominant who started everything that went wrong in the country. The weak only got the boots.
Tale of a Powerful Son-in-law
Son-in-law or damad shri occupies a place of spectacular status in India. At the dawn of the new millennium, a middle rank all-India Service Officer of the Bihar cadre was abruptly repatriated from Delhi to Patna when he did not yet run half the tenure of his deputation, much to the surprise of his colleagues and acquaintances. A ban for life for further Central deputation was slapped on him. It was animatedly whispered all around that in youthful exuberance and playful indulgence, the profligate got honey-trapped and leaked sensitive information to enemy countries. He compromised the nation’s internal security. He was let off by unceremoniously being repatriated to Patna. As a matter of fact dismissal from service for this omission and commission would have been considered a light punishment. A periodical, known for investigative journalism, had critically examined the whole episode. The case was allegedly hushed up.
Only an officer of a powerful caste could have committed such perfidious acts and still survived in the service. A convict of the infamous fodder scam in Bihar, acquitted by the High Court, has been presiding over the bureaucracy in the neighboring State in full glory! It happens only because all are not equal in our blessed Bharat. The beneficiaries of caste are opposed to elimination of the caste system precisely for this inherent unique advantage.
Jitanram Manjhi cannot expect his damad at par with sons-in-law of the privileged country-men. His attackers are inspired by other reasons. His has started displaying sparkling elements uncommon among Scheduled Caste leaders, who are tolerated because of their elastic docility.
1. NMP Srivastava, 1957, JP and Shri Babu—Allegations: Counter Allegations, Patna 2003, pp. 8-9. JP’s letter appeared verbatim in The Searchlight, Patna, August 9, 1957.
3. The Searchlight, ibid.
4. Ibid., p. 11.
5. N.M.P. Srivastava, pp. 16-17.
6. This letter was also published in The Searchlight, August 9, 1957.
The author is a retired IAS of the Bihar cadre. He can be contaced at email@example.com