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Former Bihar CM Manjhi Reignites Ramcharitmanas row

The Ramcharitmanas row, triggered by the comments of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) minister Chandrashekar, has once again been brought to light by Former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.

Manjhi, giving his views on the controversy, said that it appears Lord Ram was imaginary, while Ravana comes across as an intellectual.

Speaking to reporters, Hindustani Awam Morcha’s (HAM) chief said, “who said Ravana was Demon (Rakshas), I believe Ravana was intellectual and Ram was imaginary. Ravana was more hard-working than Ram.”

Manjhi also reportedly questioned the existence of Lord Ram, and termed the epic Ramayana as a work of fiction.

HAM is an ally in the Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar.

The controversy had erupted last year (this year in January), after Chandrashekhar termed some phrases in Ramcharitmanas as “garbage.”

Manjhi’s statement came after BJP MLAs on Friday recited Hanuman Chalisa on the floor of the House during the ongoing Budget session of Bihar Assembly.

The saffron party MLAs entered the well of the House and started chanting Hanuman Chalisa denoting the State in ‘Sankat,’ or trouble under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Manjhi said that, “the BJP MLAs should not recite Hanuman Chalisa in the Bihar legislative assembly.”

“Ramayana has been written by Tulsidas and Valmiki both, why Tulsidas Das is worshiped not Valmiki. Many Brahmin scholars have also written that Ram was imaginary, why are they not condemned and when a dalit like me says so, people have problems with it,” he added.

He further said that people having Manuwadi thought have kept the supremacy of Tulsidas rather than Valmiki.

“There are many things in the Ramayana which are not correct and even BR Ambedkar and Ram Manohar Lohia had said that objectionable portions should be omitted from Ramayana written by Tulsidas. Instead of serving the people, today’s politics is based on religion,” he said.

The saffron party has reacted to these comments, with BJP spokesperson Nikhil Anand saying that, “these days it has become a fashion to abuse Hinduism, the Hindu religious texts as well as the Hindu god and goddess.”

“It is really condemnable the way RJD leader, Samajwadi Party leader and now Jitan Ram Manjhi is on and off making statements against Hindu god which is hurting the sentiments of common Hindu masses,” Anand added.

Speaking in a video, Anand said that these people should “better check their tongue.”

“If they make a statement against Islam or any other religion, they will be honoured with Fatwa. They are doing it in the name of liberalism, progressivism and to express the sentiment in favour of simpleton and to appease Muslims and their vote bank. In the name of secularism, they should not do anything to hurt the sentiments of Hindu masses,” Anand added.

RJD leader and spokesperson Shakti Yadav, however differed from his ally partner’s statement and said: “Lord Ram is a symbol of faith. The constitution teaches us faith. Ram is is everywhere and exists in everyone. One can debate on the epics written by humans but one cannot question the existence of Ram. Ram, Krishna and Shiva are the ideals of our rich culture. It is not right to question the existence Ram.”

JDU spokesperson Abhishek Jha also condemned the statement of Manjhi and said that recently it is seen that statements are given on the basis of religion and epics, giving a wrong message in the general masses.

“Our priority isn’t religion. It is BJP who does politics on the basis of religion and takes advantage of it. Our party is not concerned about such topics and statements. Our main focus is development and respect to all religion,” Jha said.

Manjhi’s controversial statements in the past

Manjhi has been in the news before for making controversial statements after becoming the leader of the state. Last year too, Manjhi raised questions on the existence of Lord Ram.

In a program on Ambedkar Jayanti in Jamui district, he said that “Lord Ram was God, he was just a character of Tulsidas and Valmiki Ramayana. Many good things have been written in Ramayana, that’s why we believe in it, but do not know Ram.” He also said that he didn’t worship idols but worship nature and he worshiped Mata Shabri.

According to Manjhi, most of the Dalit and backward caste people are being sent to jail in the name of prohibition and that’s why he is demanding liquor ban in Bihar on the lines of Gujarat. He said that IAS-IPS also drink alcohol in Bihar, if you also want to drink alcohol at night, then drink it after 10:00 pm.

On 18 December 2021, in a conference, he made controversial remarks on Pandits. He said “now Lord Satyanarayan is worshiped at our place in every tola. It is so shameless, don’t you feel ashamed that…. Pandits come and say that they will not eat anything at your place, give everything in cash.”

Manjhi had also given controversial remarks on three leaders. While giving a statement on Rahul Gandhi, Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan, he had said that whenever there is any kind of crisis in the country or Bihar, these three leaders of the country go for honeymoon.

Manjhi also said that the upper caste people are foreigners and the descendants of the Aryans, they came here from abroad. Only Adivasis and Dalits are indigenous people of the country, he added.

SP, RJD statements on Ramcharitmanas

On 12th January, 2023 while addressing the students at the 15th convocation ceremony of Nalanda Open University, RJD minister Chandra Shekhar described Ramcharitmanas and Manusmriti as books that divide society.

“Why was the Manusmriti burnt? It is because it has insulting remarks against a large section of the society. Why was Ramcharitmanas resisted? It is because it speaks against the right of the lower caste people to access education. It says lower caste people turn poisonous if they receive education, just as a snake becomes venomous after drinking milk,” the minister said.

Following suit, Samajwadi Party leader and MLC Swami Prasad Maurya sparked a major controversy after he demanded the deletion of “insulting comments and sarcasm” targeted at particular castes and sects in Ramcharitmanas, a poem based on the epic Ramayana.

The SP leader had said, “I don’t have any issue with Ramcharitmanas but parts of it have insulting comments and sarcasm directed at particular castes and sects. Those should be removed.”

Political ramifications

CNN-News18’s Political editor Marya Shakil sees this as a political opportunity which could lead to caste polarization.

“Overall if we look at the politics of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, they are looking at more of a caste mobilisation while BJP is looking at religious mobilisation. These states combined together send 120 MPs in the Lok Sabha and hence political axis wise, U.P and Bihar has been very crucial, that is the reason why with this narrative of Lord Ram is emerging from these states,” she said.

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