Harnaut/Biharsharif/Asthawan (Bihar): In what is being termed as the toughest challenge in his political career, chief minister Nitish Kumar seems to have retained loyalty from his own community (kurmi) in his home turf, Nalanda, but support for him and his party is clearly missing among other marginalised castes, many of whom are angry due to joblessness.
Mangli Devi and her daughter-in-law Sobha Devi nurse several grievances against their sitting MLA belonging to the ruling Janata Dal-United as well as with the National Democratic Alliance government led by Nitish Kumar for not being of any help to poor families like theirs.
Mangli Devi and Sobha Devi
Yet, when it comes to votes, they still support and favour Nitish Kumar and his party as he belongs to their own jaati (caste).This caste loyalty for Nitish Kumar is quite visible on the ground in Nalanda district, his home turf. However, other castes are divided over supporting him in this Assembly election.
In village after village, members of Nitish Kumar’s caste can be heard praising him for development work, such as building roads and electricity network, but steer clear of saying anything on increasing joblessness, migration, price rise and distress sales by farmers. However, there are some who are resentful about lack of employment, failure of his government to provide livelihood and the total failure of liquor ban.
“Sarkar se kuchh nahi mila hai bharashtchar ke karan.Hum bhi khush nahi hai, lekin Nitish ke party ke saath hai,apna jaat ka aadmi hai,samarthan to karna padega,” (We haven’t got anything from the government due to corruption, we are not happy, but we will support his party has he is from our caste) said Mangli Devi sitting outside outside their small mud house. Both she and Sobha are residents of Dihrigarh, a roadside village under Harnaut Assembly constituency.
Sobha, a landless widow and mother of five children, said: “We get nothing from the government, but we will have to support our own caste leader Nitish again.”Apan jatiya ke neta ke saath hai ,humlog ka badlao nahi chahiye”, she adds. (He is from our caste, so we do not want change)
However, there are exceptions like Brij Mahto, an old man, who did not hide his anger against Nitish Kumar. “This time, I will not support him. I will vote to oust him because he failed on many fronts. Earlier, he did good work, but not in the past few years. He hardly helped us during the lockdown and never cared to know how we live and survive despite the fact that he visit Kalyan Bigha, about 4 km from our village”, Mahato told NewsClick.
Dharam Ram, who belongs to the ramani caste in Hasan Chak village, said he has always voted for JD-U will repeat the same.
Similarly, Sanjay alias Chote Singh, said we have no option other than Nitish Kumar as he is from our own village and own caste. “Khusi se samarthan de ya narajgi se, Nitish ke hi favour mein denge”. (Happiness or anger, our support is with Nitish).
Chote, a resident of Kalyan Bigha, the native village of Nitish Kumar, said there was a time when he, along with other youths of the village, used to capture booths for Nitish Kumar in the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, often risking their lives.
Chote claimed he had also prepared khaini (smokeless tobacco) for Nitish Kumar and they had spent several nights together. “It is a different matter that now Nitish hardly recognises me. Ab humko nahi pahchante hai Nitish ,kewal amir or taqatwar ko pahchante hai. (now he recognises only the rich and powerful).”
Chandan Kumar,Sanjay alias, Chote Singh
Kanhaiya Kumar, a youth in the same village, said: “Yahan to kewal Nitish hi Nitish hai” (Here there is only Nitish), adding that “we will vote for his party candidate to ensure that he becomes CM again”.
Seema Devi criticised the local authorities and said drains in the village were open and stinking, there was filth all around. “We hardly get LPG on time and are forced to use cow dung cake as fuel,” however she adds that “Nitish is not responsible” for all this, expressing her caste loyalty toward Nitish Kumar.
Similarly,Ram Lakhan Mahto, a resident of Harganwan village that falls under Ashthawan Assembly constituency, admitted that joblessness and price rise were genuine issues raised by the Grand Alliance, “but we will vote for Nitish’s party to strengthen the chances of his return to power as he belongs to our caste. Nitish ka satta mein bane rahna hum logon ke jaat ka samman hai. Hum log Nitish ke saath khade hai”.
Anand Patel, a businessman near busy Jagdeo square in Bihar Sharif said Nitish Kumar was facing a hard time and “deserves our support due to caste affiliation. We are with Nitish and want to see him return to power. We will vote NDA”
The role of caste in Bihar’s politics is evident from the fact that JD-U has fielded sitting MLAs belonging to Nitish Kumar’s kurmi caste despite their unpopularity on the ground. JD-U’s Harinarayan Singh is in the fray from Harnaut Assembly seat and Bihar Minister Sharawan Kumar is contesting from Asthawan seat. Nitish’s ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate Sunil Kumar is in the fray from Bihar Sharif.JD-U is contesting six of the seven seats in Nalanda and BJP from one seat.
Nalanda is locally known as ‘Kurmistan’ due to domination (over 50%) of the populatin belonging to the kurmi caste.
However, in other parts of Bihar, Nitish Kumar faces the toughest challenge of his political career with clear and loud signs indicating that people want to vote for change.
While kurmi caste loyalty for Nitish Kumar is very clear in Nalanda district, similar support is missing among other castes, including chandrawanshi, bind, paswan and ravidas and mushahar, that used to overwhelmingly support him in elections after election, all of whom are the mood for a change this time.
Berojgari charam par hai,mehngai bhi,gaon gaon mein sharab bik raha hai,is baar sarkar ko badal dena hai” (unemployment is at a peak, so are prices, liquor is being sold in village after village, we will change the government this time), said Mahesh Paswan alias Mukhiyajee of Cherna village.
Paswan said most of the youths are jobless, they are keen to work but lack of employment has forced them to sit idle. “Both Nitish and PM Narendra Modi are silent on employment and price rise. Nitish is trying to create fear of ‘jungle raj’ of Lalu-Rabri rule and Modi is using Kashmir, Pakistan instead of rojgar (employement)”, he said.
Paswan pointed out that a water tank built years ago in the village was defunct. Not a drop of water reaches any house till date, he added.
Like Paswan, Sushma Devi, who belongs to the extreme backward caste (EBC) category, said there were no jobs or livelihood opportunities.”Rojgar nahi hai, koi kaam kaaj nahi hai.,daru band karne ka wada pura nahi hua” (there is no employment, no work, even liquor ban is a failure.)
Kundan Kumar, a young dalit landless labourer, said he would support Lok Janshakti Party,not JD-U. “We have always voted for Nitish’s party, but not this time.There must be a change”. Another villager, Krishna Kumar Yadav, expressed his stand loudly for a change. “We want a change of MLA and the government”, he declared.
Bhonu Manjhi, another landless labourer from Babhan Bigha, who was busy harvesting paddy, said “the poor hardly get anything .There is development only for the rich. The government claims are false and only on paper.”
Chalitar Bind and his wife Chameli Devi, residents of Niyamatpur village said there was no development for them. “We have no ration card, no toilet and are yet to get funds for house construction under Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana. There should be change of the government, it is a must”
Chakitar Bind and his wife Chameli Devi on hand cart
Two youths, Sonu and Chandan Kumar, both EBC, standing near road in crowded Patel Chowk in Bihar Sharif said the government has failed on employment, “a big issue for us. We want to see young Tejashwi (Rasahtriya Janata Dal leader) as the next CM, as he will provide us government jobs, as he promised”
There is no denying that youths are leaning toward Tejashwi Yadav, who had promised to provide 10 lakh government jobs if and when he assumes power.
Suresh Ravidas also said that the poor were neglected by the Nitish government. “We are not happy. Vikas hum se abhi bhi dur hai (development is far away from the poor)”.But, Rudra Paswan, another farm labourer opined that Nitish Kumar did development work.
Minti Devi, a landless dalit farm labourer, busy harvesting paddy, said government failed to provide any help. “How will we manage to survive a month with mere 5 kg rice? If the government could not provide livelihood, why it should continue? We want change,” she made it clear.
One thing is clear, Sushasan Babu (Mister Good Governance), as Nitish Kumar is described in the national and local media, has overwhelming support from his own caste, but other castes are not in his favour. This may create a hurdle in repeating a clean sweep on November 3, the second of three phases of the Bihar Assembly polls.
All Photos by Mohd. Imran Khan