Readers of the popular Bengali writer Balai Chandra Mukhopadhyay alias Banaphool would have a grand vision of his homeland Manihari in Bihar, which he depicted gloriously in many works, including his famous novel Hate-Bajare.
But few are likely to even know it exists. For it’s a place the rest of India, racing towards the 21st century, forgot to carry from the 1980s.
Located at the confluence of the Ganga and Mahananda rivers in Katihar district in North Bihar, this sub-divisional town is the nadir of neglect and its after-effects. The floods of 1987 swept away everything that could count for development here, including roads, school buildings and electricity poles and generators. None of them has been restored since then.
As a result Amdabad, one of the two blocks of Manihari sub-division, has seen no power supply for more than two decades. It takes 24 hours to travel 26 km from this block to Manihari town. Medical facilities are poor and schooling is virtually non-existent.
Banaphool’s dream of a Sonar Manihari is a nightmare today.
Assembly elections are approaching but hardly anyone expects any change. “As usual, they (candidates) will make tall promises about a bright future for the constituency if they are elected. They will then conveniently forget each promise they make,” Sikandar Yadav, a farmer, said. He should know: at 80, he has seen decay since the days of Banaphool. This time, the candidates have an excuse: they are all first-timers. The seat was declared reserved for scheduled tribes after the delimitation.
So, be it Manohar Singh of the JD-U, LJP's Champai Kisku, NCP's Geeta Kisku or Geeta Devi of CPI(ML), nobody carries liabilities and has no excuse to offer.
Locals are wondering who to vote for. Muslims, who are in large numbers here and helped Congress's Mubarak Hussain get elected in 2005, are particularly confused.
But this tryst with democracy, in the end, is little more than a passing distraction. Elections, as Yadav said, will come and go; Manihari will remain in 1987.