Patna: Humble and honest, 68-year-old Mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi, who was Tuesday sworn as the new chief minister of Bihar, began his life working as a shepherd for a farmer.
Manjhi, who is from the Mushahar community, earned his own livelihood and funded his own education to become a graduate. His father Ramjeet Ram Manjhi was a landless labourer.
"It is a fact that Manjhi in his childhood worked as a shepherd for a farmer in his native village," a close relative of Manjhi told IANS.
Widely seen as a man of integrity, Janata Dal-United leaders say Nitish Kumar chose the soft-spoken Manjhi as his successor as he is a non-controversial leader with a clean image.
He is the third Dalit to become chief minister after Bhola Paswan Shastri and Ram Sundar Das.
According to relatives, Manjhi joined the telecom department in his home district Gaya after graduation, but was not satisfied with his job and entered politics.
He started his political career with the Congress in the late 1970s. He first contested the assembly election from Fatehpur as a Congress candidate in 1980 and won.
Manjhi served as minister in the Congress government headed by chief minister Bindeshwari Dubey in 1985. He was also a minister in the Rashtriya Janata Dal government of chief minister Rabri Devi in 2000.
In 2005, he joined the JD-U and became a minister in the government of chief minister Nitish Kumar. He was dropped after the opposition said he had faced a corruption case. Nitish Kumar re-inducted him in the ministry after he was given a clean chit.
Manjhi`s love for simple food and cotton dhoti-kurta is well known in his native village Mahkar as well as to supporters in Gaya and Patna.
It was he who successfully distributed lakhs of radios among Mahadalits and initiated several welfare schemes in the last six years.
Manjhi was SC/ST welfare minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet. He is legislator from the Makhdoompur assembly constituency in Jehanabad district.
"For the first time, a leader from the Mushahar community, poorest and at the bottom of the socio-economic category, has become chief minister," JD-U spokesperson Nawal Kumar Sharma said.
Manjhi also contested the Lok Sabha poll from Gaya constituency but lost.