The political slugfest and mud-slinging ahead of Bihar’s five-phase assembly election is of little importance to Mukesh Kumar. The only thing that gets this 37-year-old interested is the possibility that the winning party may construct a concrete approach road to his village Paharpur in Bihar’s Katihar district.
The rickshaw-puller in Karol Bagh area finds it easier to toil for 12 hours in the merciless heat of a Delhi summer than to endure a bumpy ride of 31 km to his village from Katihar after making a over 30-hour journey from the national capital.
“My wife had suffered a miscarriage while being taken to Katihar district hospital as the condition of the road was very poor…That was years ago, but the scenario remains the same,” says Kumar.
Rizwan Khan, 32, who runs a private coaching centre at Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, had left his hometown Gaya during the Rabri Devi government, fearing the deteriorating law and order situation.
“Every time I stepped out of my house my parents used to worry whether I would return safely,” says Khan.
Kumar and Khan not only represent different classes and communities, but are also among the thousands of Biharis who have migrated to Delhi over the years for better living conditions.
HT talked to a cross-section of Bihari migrants, the largest group in Delhi after people from Uttar Pradesh (according to the 2001 Census), to know what their expectations are from the next government.
“Development? That’s only on paper. People in my village in Katihar district have to cross a river to recharge their mobile phone batteries at a village in West Bengal’s Harishchandrapur,” says Nazim Khan, 40, also a rickshaw-puller, who shares a shanty with Kumar in Dev Nagar slum in Karol Bagh. Both earn around Rs 10,000 a month, but are ready to return to their state if someone offers even half of the amount back home.
About 4.24 lakh people, mostly adult males, from Bihar moved to Delhi to work in the decade to 2001, the latest year for which official figures are available. According to the 2001 census, some 55 lakh people (labour-class) migrated out of Bihar in search of a livelihood.
Looking back at his 12 years of successful career, Dr Waqar Shakaib, who moved to Delhi in 2003 from Gaya, says: “I could have done it in Bihar, but for the lack of facilities.”
He blamed former chief minister Lalu Prasad for the state of Bihar’s economy.
“Under Lalu’s watch, India’s second-most backward state saw a mushrooming of criminals that have all but pushed industry out of the state. The damage that he wreaked during his tenure cannot be compensated for even by the good work under Nitish’s reign. The health centres there lack modern technologies and fund.”
Let alone healthcare, even higher education facilities elude the hinterland with recent surveys suggesting that the educational infrastructure in the state was far below satisfaction.
According to the Annual Survey of Industries, Bihar had only 3,345 industries at the end of 2013 that is 1.5% of the total in India. Moreover, of 12.9 million people engaged across the Indian industry, Bihar accounted for less than 1% of the industrial workforce of the country.
“What has Nitish Kumar done all these years? He demands special status for Bihar. He should rather focus on erasing corruption and work on industrialisation,” says Rajnish Ranjan, 36, a corporate lawyer in the Delhi high court.
Ranjan, who left East Champaran 12 years ago, hopes the BJP, which is making inroads into the state this time, will bring about a much-needed change.