Patna: The last two years have been a roller-coaster ride for former Bihar minister Manju Verma, culminating in her getting a ticket from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) for the Bihar assembly polls Thursday.
In August 2018, Verma went to the CM’s official residence at 1, Aney Marg, to submit her resignation as minister for social welfare, after the Muzaffarpur shelter home sexual exploitation scandal — in which 34 girls were allegedly exploited — came to light.
The shelter home, funded by her department, was run by Brajesh Thakur, owner of a local vernacular newspaper, and her husband, Chandrashekhar Verma, was a frequent visitor there.
The same Nitish, as JD(U) president, has now given Manju Verma a ticket to contest in the three-phase Bihar assembly elections in October-November. She will defend the Cheriya Bariyarpur seat in Begusarai, which she has won the last two times, and which her caste — Kushwaha — dominates.
Manju Verma had to be in jail for six months, after the Supreme Court, which was monitoring the Muzaffarpur shelter home case, expressed anger that she hadn’t been arrested.
However, it is not commonly known that her arrest had nothing to do with the Muzaffarpur shelter home episode — she was in jail because the SIT formed by the Bihar government to probe the case had found 50 bullets unaccounted-for at her home in Cheriya Bariyarpur. The former minister faced charges under the Arms Act, and while going to jail, bitterly complained that she had been let down by the JD(U) and CM Nitish Kumar for a crime she did not commit.
At the time, she had told this reporter: “I should have been given credit for exposing the scandal. I, as a minister of the department, ordered the social audit of shelter homes and the report exposed the scandal. I personally visited the shelter home once, and at that time, everything looked okay.”
She also said that members of the Kushwaha caste “never supress anyone or indulge in heinous crimes. It is the Yadavs who do it”.
Manju Verma also defended her husband Chandrashekhar, saying that just visiting the shelter home did not mean he was involved.
In the end, the case was probed by the CBI, and a Delhi court convicted the guilty in February this year, but neither Manju nor Chandrashekhar was even mentioned in the charge sheet.
Chandrashekhar Verma was an influential leader of a Left party in Cheriya Bariyarpur, and both husband and wife were political activists in the area. That is how Manju Verma connected with Nitish Kumar, and was offered a ticket for the first time in 2010.
Her popularity in the area can be gauged from the fact that a crowd had assembled while she was going to jail, and a few journalists were roughed up. However, after getting bail in 2019, she disappeared. She was also suspended from primary membership of the JD(U).
At a personal interaction with journalists, on being asked why he had asked her to quit, Nitish had said: “You people were showing her in your channels, so I asked her to quit.”
Manju Verma next surfaced only when Nitish was meeting prospective candidates for the assembly polls. She met Nitish with her biodata, and party sources said when he saw her, he frowned. But ultimately, she was given the ticket, with state JD(U) president Bashistha Narayan Singh saying there was no case against her related to the shelter home scam.
Her name might still be attached to the Muzaffarpur scandal, but her winnability matters more — her constituency is dominated by Kushwahas, who vouch for her innocence.