Buxar/Dumraon (Bihar): In poll-bound Bihar, the wind is shifting its course as anti-incumbency sentiments against the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seem strong before the first phase of voting starts on October 28.
A day before exercising his franchise, Deepak Pandey, a jobless youth who lives by the station road in Buxar, says, “We have tested Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, both have failed to create job and livelihood opportunities. Now we have decided to give a chance to young Tejashwi Yadav, who has given us a new hope for government employment. Let’s test him.”
Deepak, in his late 20s, has no trust left in the present NDA government at the centre and in Bihar. “Modi had promised two crore jobs per year and Nitish repeatedly claimed that his government will provide jobs and there will be no need to migrate outside in search of livelihood. Both have failed. Lack of employment is common everywhere and reverse migration during lockdown in the wake of the COVID pandemic exposed the reality of Bihar,” he say.
Deepak, who after completing Bachelor of Computer Applications (BCA) was working in a private firm in Mumbai since 2018, returned to Buxar in May due to the lockdown as his firm was closed. “I have been here for nearly months but there is no job opportunity because industry or factories are still a dream here. For educated and skilled professionals, there is little scope for a livelihood here.”
He expressed his anger over Nitish’s tall claim of making Bihar a developed state and questioned his latest statement that industry cannot be set up in a landlocked state. “But what about agriculture and horticulture based development? There is tremendous scope to develop processing factories, fishing and agriculture based industry that can create jobs. But nothing happened.”.
Deepak’s views were supported by Mantosh Kumar, another unemployed youth in his mid 20s. “If we have to migrate outside for livelihood, it means Nitish and his ally BJP failed to create job opportunities in Bihar after 2005 when they came in power. What is the guarantee that the NDA government will create job opportunity if it returns to power again after it failed in last one and a half decades? We have decided to support the Congress, an ally of the Grand Alliance, to give it a chance as demanded by the young Tejashwi Yadav, the alliance’s chief ministerial candidate,” says Mantosh, a resident of a newly developing residential locality on the outskirt of Buxar town, about 130 km from Patna.
Both Deepak and Mantosh admitted that Tejashwi, the chief ministerial candidate of the Grand Alliance and leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), has become popular among young voters following his promise to provide 10 lakh government jobs if and when he assumes power.
Jogeshwar Ram, a cobbler in Buxar town, says, “Nitish’s time is over and now his exit is almost decided. People want change. BJP is in the race here, but it will not win.”
Ram claimed that he was a supporter of the BJP and Modi, but not anymore. “Look, it is difficult to manage meals for two times a day. The rise in prices of potato and other vegetables, pulses and such things is giving a tough time to poor people like us. I hardly earn Rs 150 to 200 a day if business is good; it is not adequate for a seven-member family. The life of the poor is becoming difficult and the government is doing nothing to help us,” he rues.
Buxar and Dumaraon are like any other assembly constituencies in the old Shahabad region. The rural belt is part of the rice bowl of Bihar along with Rohtas, Kaimur and Bhojpur districts. Lack of irrigation facility is top of the agenda of farmers who are fed up with government promises and assurances that did not see any ground implementation for years.
Buxar is witnessing a direct flight between sitting Congress MLA Sanjay Kumar Tiwari and BJP candidate Parshuram Chaubey, a former police havildar. Both belong to the upper caste Brahmin community which has a sizable population in this urban pocket to play an important role in the poll outcome.
Ravi Ray, a Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader who was expelled from the party recently, is in the fray as an independent candidate. He enjoys a support base among the trader and shopkeeper communities. This is bad news for the saffron party as it is banking on overwhelming support from the same communities.
But in the neighbouring rural and semi-urban Dumraon assembly seat, the birthplace of Bharat Ratna-awardee, shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan, the contest is triangular. The ruling JD-U has fielded Anjum Ara by denying ticket to its sitting MLA Dadan Pahalwan who has won the seat in past on his own. Pahalwan is in the fray as an independent now and likely to cut votes from the JD-U. He was recently expelled from the party.
The poll campaign in both Buxar and Dumraon ended on Monday evening on a peaceful note.
Going by people’s views, the real fight in Dumraon is between JD-U’s Anjum Ara and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)’s young candidate Ajeet Kumar Singh.
CPI (ML) candidate Ajeet Kumar Singh during campaign on last day in Dumraon. Photo credit Mohd Imran Khan
Hari Shankar Yadav, a marginal farmer and a resident of Chilhari village in Dumraon, says the major problem is large scale joblessness, poverty, migration for livelihood and farmers being forced to go for distress sale of their bumper paddy, wheat, pulses and oilseed. “Most of the farmers hardly get the Minimum Support Price. We have to sell our produce at throwaway prices offered by traders as government agencies’ procurement is either slow or delayed after harvest,” he says.
Yadav says this distress selling has resulted in low income that compelled marginal and small farmers to migrate and work outside as workers to earn a livelihood. “We will support Teen Tara [a symbol of the CPI (ML) on red flag because of its alliance with RJD]. We want to defeat NDA and oust Nitish from power,” he adds.
Shankar Paswan, a landless labourer, says, “The government has done nothing for us. We hardly get any benefit due to corruption.” Paswan is clear that he will support the “lantern symbol of the RJD,” but when told that RJD is not contesting from Dumaraon, a prompt reply comes -- “teen tara”, which is part of the RJD-led Grand Alliance. “To defeat Nitish, we will strengthen Lalu’s lantern. We will support teen tara,” says Paswan, showing his inclination to support the alliance led by former CM Lalu Prasad Yadav’s party.
Salim Ansari, a resident of Dumraon, says the elections come and go but leaders forget development of the great Bismillah Khan’s birthplace. “In 2015, then JD-U candidate Dadan Pahalwan declared that he will change the face of Bismillah’s birthplace and termed it as his resolve, and not a mere promise. But in reality, he did nothing,” says Ansari.
Former Dumraon MLA Daud Ali says he tried his level best to develop the place but did not succeed. “I demanded that land be allotted to build a memorial for Bismillah Khan but it is yet to happen due to the delay on the part of the officials concerned," he says.
Other residents living near the ancestral house of the legendary shehnai player expressed their unhappiness over its neglect and the double standards of politicians. “We expect Tejashwi to develop it if he comes to power,” they said.
According to another resident Sultan Ahmad, the two Bihar chief ministers and a host of politicians have promised to develop Khan’s birthplace but beyond tokenism, nothing concrete has taken place on the ground.
Lalu Prasad, when he was chief minister in 1994, had laid the foundation stone of a town hall-cum-library in Khan’s memory. In 2006, CM Nitish Kumar announced construction of a museum and installation of a life-size statue after the shehnai maestro’s death in August that year.
Buxar and Dumraon along with 71 constituencies will go to polls on October 28 and over 2.14 crores voters will decide the fate of more than 1000 candidates in the fray for the first of the three phases of Bihar assembly elections. Election campaign for two other phases on November 3 and 7 are in full speed.