Once a clerk in Posts and Telegraph department, Jitan Ram Manjhi, a ‘mahadalit’ who was picked by Nitish Kumar to lead Bihar, is an old hand in the state’s politics with stints as minister in Congress, RJD and JD(U) governments since 1980.

Mr. Manjhi, a six-time MLA who was elected from Makhdumpur reserved constituency in Jehanabad district, was minister for SC & ST Welfare in the outgoing Nitish Kumar government.

Known for maintaining low profile, Mr. Manjhi had been instrumental in Mr. Kumar’s reaching out to ‘mahadalits’.

Mr. Kumar had created this subsection within Dalits sans the Paswan caste to tap the support from this numerically strong section. Mr. Manjhi’s own caste ‘Mushar’ was recently designated as ‘mahadalit’ by the state government.

Mr. Manjhi is credited with popularising radio among the ‘mahadalits’ so that they could be made aware of government programmes for weaker sections.

Born on October 6, 1944 at Mahkar village in Gaya district, Mr. Manjhi’s father Ramjit Ram was an agricultural labourer. Mr. Manjhi himself was put to work in the fields by landlords during his childhood days.

But as a child he had a passion for education. With encouragement provided by his father and a tutor hired for a rich landlord children, Mr. Manjhi completed studies till class 7 without attending school.

He then took admission in a High School and went on to graduate in History from Gaya College in 1967. During his student days he was active CPI member.

Mr. Manjhi took up the job of clerk with Posts and Telegraph department in 1968 but quit it in 1980 to join Congress.

That year he won on Congress ticket from Fatehpur (Reserved) Assembly constituency and became a deputy minister of welfare in 1983 in the government of Chandra Shekhar Singh.

He was also member of Congress government of Bindeswari Dubey.

Mr. Manjhi faced two successive defeats from Fatehpur between 1990 and 1995 Assembly elections.

He earned the distinction of being elected from three other Assembly constituencies — Barachatti, Bodh Gaya and Makhdumpur in successive elections and worked as a minister in the Cabinets of Rabri Devi of RJD and Nitish Kumar of JD(U).

He also unsuccessfully contested parliamentary elections from Gaya in 1991 and again this year in which he finished third as a JD(U) nominee behind winner BJP’s Hari Manjhi and RJD’s Ramji Manjhi.

He joined JD(U) in 2005 after taking oath as minister in the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government in Bihar that year, he was dropped unceremoniously within hours for his alleged involvement in a merit scam case.

He was later exonerated of the charges and re—inducted into the ministry.

Mr. Manjhi’s humble background is evident from his affidavit filed while contesting the Lok Sabha 2014 elections. His total movable and immovable assets amount to only Rs 2.83 lakh including Rs 50,000 cash in hand.

Mr. Manjhi has interest in farming and tending plants.

His wife Shanti Devi stays at their Gaya residence. The couple have two sons and five daughters.