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Bihar: Nepali Nagar Residents Disillusioned With BJP's Bulldozer Politics After Demolition Drive

Angry over the use of bulldozers in an anti-encroachment drive, Nepali Nagar residents targetted the local BJP MLA Sanjeev Chourasia for failing to protect them.

Patna: Till recently, all residents of Nepali Nagar in Patna, Bihar, were die-hard supporters of the “bulldozer drive” in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, but now the bulldozer has become an object of hate for them. This change has come after nearly 100 houses were demolished in the last two days in Nepali Nagar during an anti-encroachment drive by the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government. 

The district administration officials claimed that only illegal houses were removed from the Bihar State Housing Board's (BSHB) land. 

Amit Singh, Pramod Tripathy, RS Pandey, and four others were lucky that their houses were not demolished by bulldozers on Monday evening after the Patna High Court stayed the demolition drive in Nepali Nagar. However, they are living under the fear that the bulldozer drive may resume and demolish their houses. 

“The use of bulldozers to demolish houses is against human rights; it is terror. Now, we have realised that the bulldozer drive is anti-people,” Amit Singh said.

Amit Singh’s sentiments were echoed by other residents Upendar SinghTripathy and Pandey as they expressed unhappiness over the bulldozer drive as well. “It was a mere chance incident that minutes before the bulldozer was about to touch my house to demolish it, the court stayed the activities and several houses have been saved from demolition for now. The use of bulldozers against people is bad action," Upendar Singh said.

Sunita Devi and her husband Pradeep Kumar somehow managed to purchase a small piece of land and recently constructed a house of their dreams that was demolished during the bulldozer drive. Speaking to NewsClick, they said, “We have lost our home; everything has been snatched by the bulldozer. Now, we are homeless; where will we go with our children? We can spend only a few days in our relative’s house, but after that, there is no place to take shelter,” Sunita said in a broken voice.

Pritam Devi, another victim of the bulldozer drive, has more or less a similar story to Sunita Devi and Pradeep Kumar. “My husband, who works as a labourer here, sold his ancestral land in his native village, purchased a small piece of land from a local farmer, and constructed the house. Authorities had not objected then, and now our house was demolished by bulldozers saying it was built on encroached land,” she said.

Angry over the use of bulldozers in an anti-encroachment drive, people, including those who lost their houses and those fearing the next drive, targeted local BJP MLA Sanjeev Chourasia and questioned his failure to stop the action against them. Local residents dared Chaurasia to stand with them and resign from the Assembly over the issue. They threatened Chaurasia to join them in their fight for survival if he wanted to get their support in the next elections.

“We have voted for Chaurasia and supported the BJP in one election after the other. But, he and his party failed us. What is the value of tall claims made by him if he does not stand with locals against the anti-encroachment drive?” said Anju Devi, whose house was also demolished. She added, “When bulldozers were demolishing our houses that we built with savings of years, Chaurasia and other BJP leaders were missing.”

Hundreds of residents of Nepali Nagar staged protests against the bulldozer drive on Sunday and Monday while shouting slogans against the government. Protesters clashed with the police to stop the drive. Most of them claimed that they have been living on the land for years and regularly paying municipal tax and electricity bills. During the protests, they got support from others in neighbouring localities.

Sensing trouble, Chaurasia, the MLA from Digha Assembly seat, opposed the bulldozer drive and described its use in Nepali Nagar as wrong. Chaurasia is considered close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Nepali Nagar under Rajeev Nagar is known as his traditional stronghold. Going by the election results of the last three decades, the BJP has been winning Assembly seats in urban Patna and MP.

The Left parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist), criticised the bulldozer drive and demanded it is stopped. A CPI(ML) team also visited Nepali Nagar and extended the party's support to the protesters.

The Patna High Court will hear the matter again on July 6 in the case related to a petition filed by the Nepali Nagar residents. 

Meanwhile, tension, fear and worry are high among the residents even after the court freed all 34 people arrested during the protests against the demolition drive.

According to police officials, locals pelted stones at the police team and tried to block the entry of bulldozers (17 JCB machines) in Nepali Nagar. Several police officers were injured and the police were forced to use teargas shells and resort to lathi-charge to disperse the protestors, they said.

Patna district magistrate Chandrashekhar Singh said a notice was issued and served to local residents about illegal encroachment and demolition drive. "Land mafia is quite active in Nepali Nagar. They first encroached on the government land and, after that, fraudulently started selling it," Singh had claimed on Sunday while speaking to PTI.

Notably, in March this year, the BJP leaders, workers and supporters in Bihar celebrated the victory of the Yogi Adityanath-led “bulldozer” government in Uttar Pradesh. In recent months, the bulldozer drives against a particular community in BJP-ruled states were also lauded by saffron party leaders in Bihar. Bihar Revenue and Land Reforms minister and senior BJP leader Ram Surat Rai stated in April that a “bulldozer drive” will be launched against absconding criminals and those encroaching on the state government land.

Rai, who wants to replicate the bulldozer model of BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, gave a warning to “encroachers”. Soon after, senior JD(U) leader Upendra Kushwaha opposed using bulldozers to demolish the house of an absconding criminal in Saran district. He said that Bihar doesn not require a bulldozer model as the “Nitish Kumar model of governance is the best”. 

The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Left parties, and Congress have countered the BJP’s bulldozer model as well.

Earlier, the BJP, which has the upper hand in the coalition with 77 seats in the state Assembly, reportedly stressed adopting the encounter model of the Yogi Adityanath government to get rid of criminals and control the increasing crime rate in the state. It was rejected by the BJP's alliance partner JD(U).

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