Meeting the Minister

Flood-affected villagers use a temporary raft as they move through floodwaters after heavy rains at Patna district

On the Indian Independence Day, a post went up about my meeting with Jitan Ram Manjhi, the Musahar Chief Minister of Bihar:

Toward the end of May, I was driving on the Taconic highway and listening to a report from India on NPR. A reporter was at a bus-station in Gujarat, asking the youth selling tea there if they could become the prime minister. This was because Narendra Modi had just led his party to a massive win in the parliamentary elections. As a teenager, Modi had sold tea at a bus-station in Vadnagar. Each one of the youth being interviewed said yes.


Then, a few days later, on May 26, there was the news that Jitan Ram Manjhi had taken oath as the chief minister of Bihar in eastern India. A report in a British paper said that Manjhi had been “born into the blighted Musahar community and grew up catching and eating rats.” The report also said that Manjhi’s career represented “the most extraordinary rise of any politician in the history of India.”


When I read that line I thought of the radio interview I had heard about Modi. India allows you the luxury of a million inequalities. You can be a schoolboy selling tea to passengers sitting in a state transport bus, but you are royalty when compared to a shirtless, barefoot village boy, from what was traditionally considered an untouchable caste, living on snails and small fish, and sometimes rats.