Hajipur/Sonepur: “Yahan to lantern hi lantern hai, kyonki badlao ka mahaul hai (There is only lantern and lantern here, as change is on the cards),” said Ramesh Rai, talking about the common mood in Hajipur Assembly constituency in favour of Rashtriya Janata Dal, whose election symbol is lantern.
A resident of Rambhadar village in Hajipur, Rai went on to add, “Though the sitting BJP MLA Awadesh Singh, belongs to our own Yadav caste but we will vote for RJD’s candidate Dev Kumar Chaurasia from another caste. It is a simple choice, we want to oust Nitish Kumar.”
His words were echoed by Mahesh Das, a landless labourer, who said that the poor like him stand in favour of lantern as the current government has failed to help in arranging the basic livelihood after lockdown. Belonging to the Ravidas community, Das said that in the last two polls he had supported and voted for the ruling BJP but not this time.
A group of daily wage labourer waiting for work
Both have their own grievances and anger against the double engine government of Prime Minister Narendar Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
A more or less similar mood is reflected in the neighbouring Sonepur Assembly constituency in Saran district. Soon after crossing an old iron bridge towards Sonepur over the river Gandak, one can see that the people want a change in the government, evident by the support for lantern. “People want a change in Bihar and the lantern symbolises that,” Gunjan Kumar, a contractual teacher of a government run school told NewsClick.
In Sonepur, the sitting RJD MLA Ramanuj Prasad appears to be ahead of BJP’s candidate Vijay Kumar Singh. The constituency is home to a significant population of dalits including Paswan, Ravidas, along with Yadav and Rajput.
Further the Left parties support to the Grand Alliance is set to help RJD this time in Hajipur and Sonepur.
In Hajipur, it appears a big challenge for the ruling BJP to retain the seat despite the fact that Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai has high stakes here and has put in all efforts to ensure the party’s victory as the seat was represented by him till 2014 before he was elected to Lok Sabha.
“I was working as a labourer at a brick kiln in Chhattisgarh when suddenly the lockdown was imposed. I somehow managed to survive for over a month there. In May, I reached Hajipur after walking more than 300 km, begging to travel in a truck as there was no money left. I was badly hit by PM Narendra Modi’s mindless move and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s failures to help us. I was disturbed like never before. I don't want to face a similar situation, so I will vote for change,” added Mahesh, who is now working as a labourer at an ash fly brick kiln near the road in Jhirua village, not far from the national highway.
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He said that the government has not given them anything. “I got nothing. I want to go outside to earn my livelihood but I don't even have Rs 30 for a train ticket. I am now a days working to earn at least Rs 200 to manage my family. I am the sole breadwinner, how can I sit at home?,” he questioned.
Barely a stone's throw away, Raj Bhallabh Das and Phekan Sao are sitting together under a makeshift rest place. They told NewsClick that people have been facing a difficult time as there is no work due to the lack of employment opportunities. “As joblessness has increased, price rise is adding another burden but both governments at the Centre and in the state seem to be sleeping. This time, we will not vote for lotus (BJP’s symbol), we stand with lantern to oust Nitish’s government,” Sao said.
Sindheshwar Rai, a poverty-stricken smallholding farmer, said people from all communities are unhappy with the double engine NDA government for various reasons including “Berojgari”, corruption and neglect of the poor. “Look, I am so poor and living in a bamboo-thatch house. I haven’t received funds under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana despite trying for it since the last five years,” he said.
Several others that NewsClick spoke with reflected a similar anger with the BJP government. Dinesh, a landless worker, said that poor from all castes including the dalit Paswan, OBC Kushwahas and Yadavs are supporting lantern for change.
In Hajipur town, Md Murtaza, a resident of Masjid chowk, said, “It is a direct fight between lantern and lotus with half a dozen independent candidates also in the fray. The talk is that lotus is in trouble as Paswan, castemen of Ram Vilas Paswan, who died last month, are supporting lantern unlike in the past. Hajipur was a bastion of Paswan as he won parliamentary polls from here several times and last year when he did not contest the polls on health grounds, his younger brother won the seat thanks to his popularity.”
More than any other, daily wage labourers, mostly landless from nearby villages, are angry with the Modi and Nitish government. “It is 11.30 AM and we have been standing here since 7 AM for work. No one has come to hire us and like the past many days, we will return empty handed without any earning. All this started since the lockdown began in March. Our livelihood opportunities have shrunk like never before,” said Dhiraj Kumar, who along with Jamadar Rai, Shiv Kumar Chauhan and others, were standing on the roadside at Jauhari Bazar.
Another labourer Chandeshwar Singh, who was standing nearby, quipped in to say, “Over six years have passed, but where is Achhe Din? Lockdown karke Modi ne garibon ko maar diya, ab toh kaam dhandha milna mushkil hai. Aise mein jeena asaan nahi hai, Aloo Rs 50, Pyaj Rs 80 aur Tel Rs 170. Sach mein toh yeh humlogo ka bure din hai. (Modi has hit us with lockdown, it is difficult to find work now. It is already difficult to live, and the prices of potato is Rs 50, onions is Rs 80 and oil is Rs 170. In reality these are our bad days.)
An OBC Kushwaha from Naytola Dighi village, Chandeswar claimed that his entire village is supporting lantern this time.
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At Sonepur, known for Asia’s largest annual animal fair, people are questioning the government’s decision to not hold the fair by November end due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Elections can be held, and crowded election rallies are being organised across Bihar but Sonepur cattle fair will not be held as it will spread COVID. We fail to understand the mindset of the government,” Kundan Kumar Singh, a resident of the locality close to the famous Harihar Kshetra Mela in Sonepur, told NewsClick.
Several others from the area, too, voiced their anger over the postponement of the cattle fair, a big opportunity for livelihood of hundreds of local residents.
Chokar Das, a rickshaw puller waiting for customer at Gaj Grah Chowk in Sonepur, said that he had expected a change in his life as Modi had promised good days but it was mere hogwash. “I am a poor old man without any old age pension. Yet, the government hasn’t provided any help to construct my house. My earnings have reduced greatly over the last few months. It has become very difficult to manage even two meals daily,” Das said, his disappointment with the incumbent government writ large on his face.
Sonepur and Hajipur are going to polls in the second phase of the Assembly elections on November 3.
All photos by Mohd. Imran khan
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