It may be the Bengalis’ biggest festival but the election frenzy in Patna has dimmed the glitz of Durga Puja at dozens of pandals.
Giant hoardings of Nitish Kumar and Amit Shah stare down at each other at busy thoroughfares.
“Since Patna votes on October 28, we are expecting a bevy of political leaders and bureaucrats, maybe even the CM at our puja,” says Samir Ray, vice-president of the Bengali Akhada Durga Puja.
Settled in Patna for over a century now, the Bengali community has been traditionally prosperous, comprising lawyers, bureaucrats and doctors.
But their numbers have dwindled in the recent years and so has their socio-cultural influence.
During the last elections in 2010, the community backed Nitish Kumar, buoyed by his promise to recruit Bengali teachers and sort out the
difficult documentation process for Bengali refugees.
The community got Nitish’s attention after threatening to boycott the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, a move that would have serious consequences in four seats where Bengalis have a sizeable presence.
But little has progressed on the ground five years on. “We will vote for whoever solves our problems. Our refugee community has worse socio-economic indicators than the state average. We want Bengali teaching and a refugee development authority,” says DK Sinha of the Bihar Bengali Association.
Others have been weaned away from the JD(U) due to its alliance with Lalu Prasad.
“We want change. Nitish is fine but we fear crime will spike because of Lalu,” says Bimal Acharya of the Patna Recreation Club.
Memories of the RJD rule are also fresh in the people’s mind. “During Lalu’s time, everything would shut by 8pm. Women couldn’t go out. We don’t want those times to return,” says Satyadeb Sengupta.
Others, however, say the community is fractured and even among the urban crowd, many vote independently and not as a bloc.
One thing is for certain, though. The costly Puja pandals are the new focus of frenzied electioneering.