Masaurhi (Bihar): Matuk Prasad is a worried man, he fails to understand how he can afford to purchase potato at Rs 50 per kg for his family of six, let alone green vegetables, which are selling at even higher prices in the nearby rural market. He is not alone, almost every third person in the rural belt from Punpun to Masaurhi is angry over the massive price rise of food items in the election bound state.
Matuk, a small land holding farmer, who does other odd jobs to earn livelihood has been sitting jobless after the lockdown. He said that the NDA government in the state and the Centre have failed to control price rise. “Are those running and heading the government not aware that aloo has become a luxury item for the poor like us? Not to talk about onion prices which have risen to Rs 60 per kg and green vegetables are selling between Rs 70 to 80 per kg. From edible oil to pulses, the rate of everything has gone up despite the fact that thousands have been rendered jobless and those doing small business are struggling for survival due to the the COVID-19 pandemic. What will the poor eat,” the resident of Gopalpur Math village under Masaurhi Assembly constituency in Patna district questioned.
He added that it has become a problem to even arrange simple food like bhaat-daal-chokha (rice, lentils and crushed boiled potato, staple in Bihar) or even roti with onion and chokha.
Masaurhi, nearly 35 km from Patna and hardly 15 km from Jahanabad district, was part of the notorious killing fields of Bihar till the late 90s, witnessing violent battles between the poorest of the poor, belonging to the lower castes and led by extreme left wing and the dominant upper castes’ private armies. This place is also locally known as Taregna as it is associated with 6th century Indian astronomer-mathematician Aryabhatta. It is believed that Aryabhatta’s claim that the earth revolves around the sun was based on his marathon research in an observatory at Taregna.
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Makut, who belongs to the Chandrawansi caste, an OBC, said that when unemployment is at its peak and the government is unable to create jobs for skilled and unskilled workers and even the educated youths, essential food items should not be out of the reach of the poor. “We will not support NDA because aloo will become out of our reach if they return to power. This time we will vote for a change, it is a must,” he further added.
Lailun Prasad from the same village echoed similar thoughts and said that if the NDA will return to power, the poor will be forced to purchase potatoes at Rs 100 and pulses Rs 200 per kg. He said, “This government is bad for poor as it only cares for the rich. We have decided to vote against NDA and oust it from power.”
“We are getting 4 kg rice by PDS (public distribution system) dealer in place of 5 kg, this is nothing but corruption. It is everywhere from the level of the ocal elected panchayat members, police station and at the block office. Corruption is rampant, it is not possible to ensure genuine work without bribe. We even have to pay a cut from the direct money transfer scheme if we want to be a beneficiary,” Prasad said.
Buddhan Paswan, a landless resident of Lal Bigha village from the same area, said that price rise is a problem for him as even earning gus livelihood is a big challenge. “I work as a hand cart puller in nearby Masaurhi bazaar but my earning has gone down badly in the last six months. There is less work as business has slowed down. As my earning is not more than Rs 100 and 150 per day, price rise is affecting my survival,” he said.
He added that his application for house construction under Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana is pending and he was not provided funds to construct a toilet. “We don't have anything ,this government has failed to help us,” he said.
Deepak Kumar, a drive from the area, expressed similar sentiments against the current government and its failure to control price rise. Meanwhile, Vijay Yadav, who runs a dhaba at Tarpura near NH 83, said that people are angry with Nitish Kumar over his total failure. “He (Nitish Kumar) changed side from BJP, announced to fight against it and joined hands with RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal), but later joined the BJP-led NDA again. What is his credibility? For him only power and chair matters, not people. We are certain that his days as a CM will be over on November 10 (date of result) because people are fed up and want a change,” he added.
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Matuk, Lailun, Deepak and Vijay also question the failure of liquor ban. “Bihar is a dry state only on paper, liquor is available everywhere and it is selling like never before. It is easy to get it through home delivery in the rural areas as well. Earlier, the poor working people after hours of hard work used to buy cheaply available desi liquor. The only change now is that the same is available at double the price,” Matuk said.
Not only that, it also the poor who are targeted and harassed by the police in the name of taking action against the liquor mafia. Majority of the cases are lodged against the economically marginalised classes and they are the ones to be arrested for violation of the liquor ban. Matuk added, “Local police stations and administration are fully aware of liquor sale and manufacturing in several villages but remain silent as they are getting bribes. The police only acts against those who are poor, who are found drunk on roads and send them to jail.”
In the crowded and congested Masaurhi town, the residents are also angered by Nitish Kumar’s failure to keep his oft repeated promise to develop Taregna as a tourist spot due to its historical significance. “Nitish Kumar has forgotten it. This place situated between Patna and Jahanabad near the national highway should have been developed as a model town. There is a lot of scope for it,” Sartaj Ahmad, a vendor near the railway station, said.
As the campaign picks up ahead of the first of three phases of Assembly elections, Masaurhi, a reserved constituency, is witnessing a direct fight between sitting RJD MLA Rekha Devi and the ruling JD-U candidate, Nutan Paswan. But the Lok Janshakti Party, an ally of BJP, has fielded its candidate against the JD-U, which may lead to the triangular contest.
RJD’s candidate has an advantage over JD-U here as this time the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation is part of the Grand Alliance comprising RJD, Congress and other Left parties. CPI-ML has a strong support base among dalits and other backward castes in some of the rural pockets in the constituency.
A sizeable population of OBC Yadav, considered loyal to RJD, as well as some sections of the upper caste are not enthusiastic about Nitish’s JD-U, while Muslims are favouring Grand Alliance.
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