Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi (photo: PTI)
One has to feel sorry for Jitan Ram Manjhi. He had to step into his predecessor Nitish Kumar’s shoes as a stop-gap chief minister when Kumar resigned after the JD (U)’s debacle in the Lok Sabha election. Now it turns out that Manjhi also earlier paid a bribe to settle an inflated electricity bill, despite being a minister in the state government at the time.
Manjhi’s bribe disclosure set off a political storm in Bihar this week, as Kumar had projected clean governance and claimed a reduction in corruption during his 8 ½ year rule. Yet here was a former minister, now chief minister, claiming that he too had to pay a bribe.
“Despite rapid progress in Bihar under Nitish Kumar, corruption could not be tamed,” Manjhi reportedly told rural development officers on Tuesday.
"The electricity department had sent a flattened bill of Rs. 25,000 at my house in Gaya town a couple of years ago... my family members had to cough up Rs. 5,000 as bribe to the department officials to get the bill rectified even though I was a minister in the government," he recalled.
Manjhi said he subsequently informed senior officials in the electricity department who punished the bribe seeker. A raid was also conducted at the same official’s residence that yielded undeclared assets worth crores of rupees.
All political hell broke loose following the chief minister’s confession, with the opposition BJP quickly latching on to this incident as another symptom of an ineffective administration.
“The situation has reached a point of no return. If Manjhi as minister had to pay a bribe, then one can imagine the fate of the general public,” said state BJP chief Mangal Pandey.
Two days later, Manjhi tried to backtrack on the issue, claiming that the media had ‘twisted’ his comments. He claimed the incident actually took place in 1994, well before Nitish Kumar’s tenure and conveniently under the administration of his then rival Lalu Prasad Yadav.
According to PTI, Manjhi told reporters on Thursday: "I had given Rs. 5,000 to my son for payment of electricity bill of my house in Gaya. He returned Rs. 3,300 to me. When I saw that the electricity bill was Rs. 1,500 only I asked him for Rs. 200 and he told me he had given the money to the officials for sweets for taking pain to trace the old bill.”
It’s not clear if his U-turn will be enough to convince the good people of Bihar that their chief minister is, after all, one of them – he too has to pay a bribe to get the job done.