On both sides of the highway that cuts through eastern Bihar, yellow patches have started appearing amidst acres and acres of lush green farmland, signalling the ripening of the crop.
But in the state’s rice bowl, straddling at least 16 assembly constituencies, nature’s visible bounty hides the harsh reality – about failing crops due to erratic weather earlier and a paddy procurement scam which has seen the government clamp down on the rice mills in three districts.
“These are trying times. Rabi crops like wheat and gram suffered extensive damage due to unseasonal rains, while the alleged scam in paddy procurement compelled us to sell paddy at throwaway prices,” said Rajesh Mishra, a marginal farmer of Durgadih village in Karakat constituency, around 120 km from capital Patna.
Karakat and Nokha constituencies serve as a microcosm of the state’s most fertile agriculture belt – straddling Rohtas, Kaimur and parts of Ara districts -- where most of the 100-odd rice mills in the region are located.
The 16 constituencies will go to the polls in the second phase on Friday but most of the people only remember the promises made five years ago – and allegedly forgotten by their representatives.
“Political parties employ every trick (in the book) to garner votes but never care for the electorate or strive to fulfill the promises they make during elections. Election time has come again and big promises are being made, only to be forgotten once again,” Mahanand Singh, a farmer in Nokha constituency.
In a region which has a mix of voters from upper castes and the backward classes, the BJP-led NDA is locked in a tough fight with the grand alliance of the JD-U, RJD and Congress.
And true to Bihar’s political dynamics, the caste factor is expected to play a major part in the way the region votes.
“Lalu Prasad is spewing venom against Brahmins and the upper castes. It would definitely lead to massive withdrawal of upper caste vote from the JD(U) and Congress’ kitty,” said Mithilesh Tiwari, a retired army man in Gosainpur under Nokha segment.
Karakat is likely to witness a triangular contest between JD(U) rebel Rajeshwar Raj, who is seeking re-election as the BJP nominee, RJD’s Sanjay Singh Yadav, and three-time MLA Arun Singh of CPI(ML).
On the other hand, Nokha is heading for a direct contest between RJD’ Anita Chaudhary (wife of slain minister Anand Mohan and daughter-in-law of former minister Jangi Chaudhary) and sitting BJP MLA Rameshwar Chaurasia.
People on the bus along the highway point out that not long ago, the chimneys of the rice mills belched smoke day and night – the signal of the region’s productivity. Not anymore.
Full coverage: Battle for Bihar