A GroundXero Report on Bihar Assembly Elections.
The last phase of Bihar’s legislative assembly elections was held today (November 7). GroundXero visited Mahua and Patepur assembly segment where votes were being cast. The Mahua assembly seat was represented by Lalu Prasad Yadav’s older son Tejpratap in the 2015 assembly election, but this year he has been shifted to Hasanpur. The RJD candidate is Mukesh Kumar, nephew of senior RJD leader Visundev Rai. Mukesh Kumar’s father was killed two and half decades ago.
Mahua is about 40 km north of Patna. Near Jawahar Chowk, Vinod Yadav, an independent candidate with an RSS background, was delivering a speech. The stage was decorated in saffron. His speech contained right-wing Hindu narrative in which issues of cow protection and “Mother India” came up. Local people said that Vinod Yadav is an old RSS worker and is known for his fiery speech. He is the person who builds up organisation through various religious activities. But despite all his work he has been denied a ticket in every election because his equation with the union Minister for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai is not good. Nityanand Rai calls the shots in the political affairs of Hajipur and adjoining areas.
RJD Office, Jawahar Chowk, Mahua
Near Jawahar Chowk, the RJD election office has been temporarily set up in a marriage hall. Here a group of RJD supporters were discussing the election scenario in an enthusiastic mood.
What are the problems in this assembly? Rajaram Rai, a lawyer by profession, said “Employment is the biggest problem. That is the first need, unable to find employment poor people are finding it very difficult to run their day to day life.” Social worker Pramod Gupta complained about the double standard of the police department: “Police let the criminals and corrupt off while [the] innocent are booked for the crime they never committed. Therefore we want change in the government under young leadership.”
RJD leader Tejaswi Yadav promised 10 lakh government jobs if he is elected to power. From where will he arrange the money to create these jobs? Will he meet the same fate as Narendra Modi, who also promised two crore jobs for young people but later it turned out to be a mere jumla (empty promise)? Rajaram Rai intervened “Narendra Modi is a ‘Jumlabaj’ and always speaks lies but our leader is not like that.” A old man, Harendra Rai, in his sixties, added “Narendra Modi is a corrupt man, he always oppresses poor people while Lalu Prasad always stood for the exploited and oppressed. Narendra Modi raised the stamp duty of ‘Dakhil Kharij’ (mutation fee) of land registry due to that we are facing severe stress. Lalu Prasad was not a corrupt man he is in jail because opposition conspired against him.”
Making comparison between Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, another old man Ramjapan Rai opined: “Nitish Kumar did not fulfil any of [his] promises. He always indulged in fraud. He always made excuses. When Lalu Prasad was in power we were in peace. Lalu Prasad had done a lot of things for the poor people. But we achieved nothing during his 15 years. When we were in a crisis during [the] Corona period Nitish Kumar didn’t come to ask how are we. Our children do not have any employment. When we opened our shops and tried to earn some money, [police administration not only forcibly shut up our shops and business but [we] had to pay heavy amounts to free our relatives from the clutches of police.”
What work has Tejpratap Yadav done during his time in the legislative assembly? Ayush Kumar, a 12th standard student said “When he was health minister a medical college was established here but it is not functional yet because he had to leave office after Nitish Kumar crossed over to BJP. He tried to repair roads of this constituency. Nitish Kumar is ‘Paltu Chacha’. He always clings with power.”
A Dalit man Ramjal Ram praised Lalu Prasad for the self-respect he generated among Dalits: “Credit goes to Lalu Prasad that due to him a Dalit person like me, who hails from the Chamar caste, is able to stand up before society in a dignified manner. Lalu Prasad taught us how to behave with self respect.”
A social worker named Ram Udgar Rai criticised Nitish Kumar for liquor policy: “You cannot work without bribing administrative officials. Liquor is banned in Bihar but you can get it whenever you want from an illegal channel. In fact the ruling party has devised ways to earn money through illegal means. Liquor ban is one such policy.”
An unemployed youth asked from the crowd, mostly RJD supporters: “I want to ask from Nitish Kumar that in 2014 recruitment for SSS (Staff Selection Commission) had begun. I passed the PT (Preliminary Test) six years ago and am still waiting for the main examination. Two years ago in February an announcement for the railway examination was published but the examination has not been conducted so far. I filled out a form for NTPC group D, but there is no information regarding it till now. Narendra Modi only talks about 370, Ram Mandir, but never talks about jobs. They want to distract our attention from livelihood issues.”
Shahi Masjid, Mukundpur, Mahua
In Mahua, a Muslim woman named Asman Parveen has joined the fray on a JD(U) ticket. People do not forget to mention that Asman Parveen married to a man from the Yadav caste, a dominant caste in this constituency,
Shahi Mosque is situated in the heart of the town. Members of the minority community come in the evening to offer prayers. After the prayers, GX talked to some persons. Initially they were hesitant to express their electoral preferences but after some conversation they started to express their opinions freely. A middle-aged bearded man with a turban on his head said “Some days ago we were thinking about Asman Parveen but from two three days support for RJD candidate has grown considerably.”
According to Maqsood Alam, an old-looking man: “Nitish Kumar has not done any work for minorities. Young boys of minorities are unemployed even after good education. Nitish Kumar didn’t give jobs to the Muslim youth.” Another commented: “Situation is very bad particularly for Muslims. Muslims have been oppressed everywhere. Neither their life nor their dignity is safe in today’s time. Our government is solely responsible for it.”
What have Muslim leaders done for them ? A young man intervened in the discussion by saying that “The so-called Muslims representation have done nothing for the community. They are just concerned about their own self interest.” In the meanwhile an old man talked about the NRC effect: “NRC have been brought just to oppress minorities. NRC shouldn’t be implemented. It has been brought by BJP to target Muslims. If we don’t possess our identity card they are threatening to send us to the detention camps. People voted for BJP to work for the country but they have other plans and agenda.”
Some Muslims, particularly the older ones, complained about the rising prices of onion, edible oil, and other essential items. “Onion is being sold at Rs. 80 per kilogram in place of 10. Price of edible oil is Rs. 200 per kilogram. During the BJP government we are witnessing sky-rocketing of all the essential items prices particularly in the corona period.”
Which party will you vote for? These people almost unanimously said “We want progress in our life. Party doesn’t matter to us. There should be recruitment in the government services so that Muslims can get jobs there.”
Another Muslim candidate is also in the race on behalf of the SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India), a Kerala-based organisation fighting with the support of different organisation under the leadership of criminal-turned-politician Pappu Yadav. Pappu Yadav had been accused of the murder of Ajit Sarkar, CPI(M) MLA from Purnia. The name of the front is Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) in which Chandrashekhar Ravan of the Bhim Army, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar-led VBA and Muslim organisations like the IUML and the AMP are part of this alliance. At the office of SDPI, a Muslim man with a South Indian accent was present. When GX asked about the party he was not forthcoming and made an excuse, saying that unless the candidate comes here he cannot express anything. The front, led by Pappu Yadav, has fielded candidates everywhere, and they have given tickets to minorities. When asked about what kind of forces Pappu Yadav represent, Jaiprakash, a social and political analyst, said
“They operate in a broad BJP network. In the 2015 assembly elections also they fielded candidates in such manner that benefited BJP electorally. However they couldn’t succeed. In this election also and particularly in the third phase where Muslim dominated area of Seemanchal is going to poll they are trying to keep minority community away from mainstream secular parties so. They have fielded Muslim candidate in such a manner that whatever votes they can take will harm the major anti-BJP force. AIMIM is playing the same game in Muslim majority areas of seemanchal is association with RLSP led by former union minister Upendra Kushwaha. Their campaign is mostly among minorities and is centred around the question of representation that these secular parties have got our vote every time but never gave adequate representation to us. They are basically reactionaries and their main target is not BJP but secular and Left parties. You can imagine why a party based in Kerala is fighting election is Bihar?”
Patepur is about 60 km from Patna. Here the former art and culture minister and RJD leader Shiva Chandra Ram is pitted against Lakhindra Ram of BJP. NCP-led by Sharad Pawar have also fielded Shashi Paswan here. In Patepur, posters and banners of AIMIM leader Owaisi are visible. Shivachandra Ram was MLA in the last assembly from Rajapakar assembly seat but his time he has been shifted to Patepur. Patepur is a reserved constituency.
At a local dhaba, some people were busy with poll arithmetic of various candidates. Commenting on the poll scenario of Patepur, school teacher Pramod Paswan, who runs a human rights organisation also, said “Both the alliances have not fielded a good candidate. Grand Alliance put up Shivachandra Ram whose reputation is very bad because he changes his constituency in each election. He doesn’t care and work in his constituency therefore runs away from the constituency every five years. In the same way, the BJP candidate is not known to serve people. It may be the third candidate of NCP who can win election because Muslims and upper caste people won’t have any problem with NCP.” Pramod Paswan further said “No doubt there is a groundswell in favour of Grand Alliance (GA). We school teachers are also supporting the GA but in a hidden way. Schools teachers play an important role during polls hence if they have an inclination towards any party they can do a lot favour without being recognised. BJP-JD(U) government didn’t address our grievances. Everywhere school teachers are deliberately working against NDA.”
On the way to Hajipur, we stopped at a small market called Rani Pokhar, where elections were completed on 3 November. At a tea shop, when the shopkeeper was asked who he voted for, he replied calmly “We voted for Congress. Our community (Bania) have decided that the Narendra Modi government did nothing for us so this time we shall give Grand Alliance a chance. Therefore we along with our family and community voted for Congress while we generally voted for BJP.”
While returning to Patna, a Tejaswi Yadav meeting was organised in Sehan High School under the Chehra Kalan locality. This school is about 8-9 km west of Mahua on Hajipur road. The road from the highway to the place of meeting was in a dilapidated condition. In Bihar despite government claims of better road conditions, existing roads, particularly those that connect highways to villages, are in very bad shape. A huge crowd gathered to watch and listen to Tejaswi Yadav, chief ministerial candidate from the Grand Alliance. Tejaswi usually deliver speeches not more than 3-5 minutes long. His elder brother, who occupied this assembly seat in 2015, accompanied him. Almost every age group thronged to hear and watch him but certainly the presence of the Yadav caste is predominant in these meetings. A lot of talk of the Yadav assertion being on the rise can be heard. In fact the BJP-JD(U) is deliberately trying hard to convey this message to the people: if the Grand Alliance comes to power then the Yadavs will once again play the same anarchist role that had been in the case during 1990-2005. The enthusiasm for change, slogans, songs and energetic body language of the people in the rallies are painted as a symbol of ‘Jangal Raj’ (An oblique reference to Yadav domination).
But the desire for the change is palpable and its pulse can be felt in these rallies. Ravi Yadav, a professor in a local college, commented on the huge crowd, saying “I have attended so many rallies in my fifty five years of life but never have seen people in such large numbers. The people are not just coming here to watch their leader but there is a deep urge for change in the hearts of these people. Coming of Tejaswi Yadav is a reflection of people’s mood for change. It’s been 15 year. People are fed up now, they are waiting for change of government.”