Roadside discussions are not exactly pre-poll surveys but they do serve as a barometer of the popular mood in a constituency going to the polls a few days later.
At Mira Bigha, around 70km from Bihar’s capital Patna, as a group of people huddle by the roadside to discuss and debate the fortunes of the contending parties in Bihar’s assembly polls, the churning in Hindustani Awam Morcha chief Jitan Ram Manjhi’s own constituency is obvious.
Makhdumpur, a reserved constituency Manjhi represents in the assembly, will go to the polls on October 16.
As the discussion grows more animated, the group of people point out how the former chief minister has allegedly neglected the area at the cost of developing certain pockets that essentially belong to the influential sections.
“There has been little change in this constituency. Whatever work has been initiated has been carried out in areas south of Makhdumpur,” says Rabindra Kumar of Kohra village in Jehanabad district.
Not everyone agree though. Another villager Ravi Sharma jumps in to defend Manjhi but finds himself in the minority as the people insist that “only capitalists and capable sections have benefitted by way of distribution of schemes or personal help.”
The constituency’s 2.10 lakh-odd voters include sizeable number of Yadavs, Bhumihars, Kurmi-Koeri and Mushars, to which Manjhi belongs.
The main contest for Manjhi in the polls is expected to come from the RJD Subedar Das, a local from the Chamar community.
“The former chief minister’s otherwise comfortable position has also been challenged by the coming together of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. Lalu has a rock-solid caste-based support base among the Yadavs and the latter is known for his pro-development and pro-law and order image,” says Sunil Kumar of Tarahua village, adding that “Mandal is definitely at play”.
In contrast, the upper castes, particularly the Bhumihars -- supposedly en bloc supporters of the BJP -- are still to get over Manjhi dubbing them “videshi” (foreigners) and also his decision to appeal against a high court judgment on Laxmanpur Bathe massacre in the Supreme Court.
The 1997 incident saw over 50 Dalits killed by members of the Ranveer Sena, an armed upper caste outfit that essentially had men from the Bhumihar community.
Manjhi himself may have seen the writing on the wall, for he is also contesting from the Imamganj constituency in Gaya district. Despite joining the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Manjhi’s own boat is rocking in the choppy waters of a highly-polarised battleground.