PATNA: Former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi on Friday forayed into the controversy surrounding ‘Ramcharitmanas’ which got triggered by utterances of a state minister a few months ago and has since refused to die down. Manjhi, who heads the Hindustani Awam Morcha and is part of the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ government in the state, was reacting to questions from journalists who sought his views on the controversial stance of state Education Minister Chandrashekhar on the epic.

“I have always held that Lord Rama is an imaginary figure and not a historical one. I am not the first one to have said so. Similar views have been expressed by scholars like Rahul Sankrityayan and Lokmanya Tilak. But since they were Brahmins, nobody took exception. When I say it, people have problems”, Manjhi said.

He added, “even if we go by the myth, Ravana does come across as far more well-versed in karma kanda (rituals) than Rama. We should ponder why is it that Valmiki, who is credited with having penned the oldest Ramayana, is never revered like Tulsidas (author of Ramcharitmanas)”.

Manjhi seemed to be in agreement with the contention of the state education minister who had stirred a controversy by criticising some of the verses in the ‘Ramcharitmanas’ which portrayed ‘Shudras’ in a poor light.

The minister has also called for the expunction of such passages, stressing ‘Lord Rama partook fruits offered by Shabari (a tribal devotee) but her descendants (Dalits/tribals) continue to be discriminated against by those who worship Lord Rama’.

The BJP, which is now in opposition in the state, had predictably expressed outrage over the comments of the Education minister, who belongs to the RJD. Leaders on both sides agree that the RJD leader had deftly tried to play the caste card in a bid to blunt the surge of Hindutva, with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections next year and assembly polls in 2025.

A leaf out of the RJD’s book appeared to have also been taken by the Samajwadi Party, the BJP’s principal opponent in adjoining Uttar Pradesh where its leaders have been in news for adopting a similar stance, much to the chagrin of the saffron party which seeks to showcase the construction of the temple at Ayodhya big time.

Manjhi also said, “I hold that the Ramcharitmanas is a beautiful literary work and contains many good things. But it must be purged of the stuff that condones social discrimination”.

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