Voter discontent persists in Valmiki Nagar amid flooding woes and underdevelopment - Hindustan Times

Voter discontent persists in Valmiki Nagar amid flooding woes and underdevelopment

May 25, 2024 08:00 AM IST

In Valmiki Nagar, voter frustration is palpable as they perceive a lack of development. Dissatisfaction with government efforts dominates discussions

Sukhari Ram, a native of Rohua Tola of Lakshmipurva panchayat of Valmikinagar, is upset. The turbulent Gandak river had devoured full-grown paddy on his 19-katha farm, nestled on the eastern bank of the river adjacent to Nepal’s border, in the last kharif cropping season.

Nabi Kumar Sarania at a village in Valmiki Nagar. (HT)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
Nabi Kumar Sarania at a village in Valmiki Nagar. (HT)(HT_PRINT)

“The entire stretch of the land has been filled with a heavy sheet of silt, which will take months or even years to make it cultivable. Nobody from the government came to help. Nor did any political leader visit us to ease our sufferings. Do we vote to offer luxury to our leaders, while we are left to fend?” asks Ram, as his fellow villagers nod their heads in affirmation.

Janak Manjhi, a native of Kanhi Tola, who was playing cards on a cemented platform beneath a majestically spread Peepal tree with them in Lakshipurva, agrees with a grudging nod “Even the media only visit this remote village during elections similar to our political masters,” he said.

The town area of Valmiki Nagar Lok Sabha constituency, which is going to the polls in the sixth phase on May 25, is charged up with talks about political manoeuvrers of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) to take on each other. “For decades, we have grappled helplessly with the scourge of recurring floods. Dozens of villages remain cut off from the district headquarters for want concrete bridge on river Gandak. Villages are shrinking every year due to massive erosion by the river,” said Moin Ansari of Thakraha block, with visible apathy towards the electoral system.

Voter sentiments reflect why the preference for the “None Of The Above” (NOTA) option during elections is rising in every subsequent election. In 2020 by-elections in Valmiki Nagar, in which Janata Dal (United) leader Sunil Kumar won the seat, more than 41,000 people opted for NOTA, which formed 3.87% of the total votes polled. In the 2019 general elections, the NOTA button was pressed by 34,338 people, even as then JD(U) candidate Baidyanath Prasad Mahto, father of the sitting MP (Sunil Kumar) had won the seat with 6.02 lakh votes, defeating his nearest rival of the Congress party, Shashwat Kedar, by a margin of over 3.54 lakh.

“A close contest between JD(U) nominee Sunil Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate Deepak Yadav is expected in Valmiki Nagar,” said Surya Narayan Singh, a resident of Bagaha, adding that Deepak Yadav, who owns a sugar mill in Bagaha, switched his loyalty from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to join the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) last month. In 2019, Yadav had contested on a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) ticket and netted 62,963 votes.

Yadunath Pandey, a native of Mangalpur village, feels an anti-incumbency wave around owing to the negligence of the government at both the state and the Centre. “The national highways that connect Bettiah with Uttar Pradesh via Bagaha are two-lane and heavily loaded with traffic. Farmers have to wait excruciatingly for months to get even truncated compensation for flood devastation and payment of sugarcane from the sugar mills. Absence of local employment opportunities, unreliable farming due to recurring floods has led youths to migrate to other states like Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra to earn bread and butter,” adds Pandey with a sense of disdain.

Tarkeshwar Saw, a 44-year-old restaurant owner in Bagaha, however, is reluctant to see any wave against the BJP-led regime at the Centre. “Nobody in the opposition is close to Narendra Modi in terms of personality and global recognition. I can bet 10,000, as I am sure Modi will secure the third term as PM. He will be replaced by Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath in the next term,” said Saw, talking about the improvement in the law and order scenario the area had witnessed in the last decade. “Till 2000, during the RJD regime, marketplaces in the town were seldom opened after the sunset. Now, people can buy things at 9 pm,” he added.

Valmiki Nagar seat, which is part of the West Champaran district that served as the karmbhoomi of Mahatma Gandhi during the pre-Independence era, has been a bastion of the NDA owing to its caste combination. The seat has been represented either by the BJP or JDU since 2009, even though people’s demand for declaring Bagaha an administrative district, permanent solution for floods, and revitalisation of moribund sugar mills remained unaddressed by the elected leaders. Previous assembly election results also show a favourable position for the sitting MP, as five of the six assembly seats — Valmikinagar (JDU), Ramnagar (BJP), Narkatiaganj (BJP), Bagaha (BJP) and Lauria (BJP) — have the NDA representation, while Sikta has been won by the CPI(ML), which is a constituent of the INDIA bloc.

However, the presence of defectors from the BJP and the Congress in the fray is set to make it an interesting fight in this election. Former BJP leader Dinesh Agrawal, who hails from the dominant Vaishya community, has filed his nomination as an independent, while former Congress candidate Pravesh Kumar Mishra, who lost the last Lok Sabha elections with a margin of 22,000 votes by the sitting MP, is also in the fray an independent.

The Tharuhat region, bordering Nepal and home to Tharu tribes, is also set to play a key role in the outcome of the election results. Tharu community, who have around 1.60 lakh voters, have been put on the margin and facing umpteen difficulties for their sustenance owing to the ban on mining of stones and sand from Pandai river, a tributary of Gandak. “We have been left jobless after the government barred us from picking precious stones and timbers coming down from Nepal region. Majority of the tribal people are under-employed and depend on paddy and sugarcane crops to survive,” said Mango Oraon, a native of Bhatni village.

Main Contestants:

JD(U)-Sunil Kumar

RJD- Deepak Yadav

BSP-Durgesh Singh Chauhan

IND- Dinesh Agrawal

IND-Pravesh Kumar Mishra

Total Number of electors: 18,25,490

Male Voters: 966302

Female Voters: 859116

Others: 72

Sitting MP (2020 by-election): Sunil Kumar (JDU)

MP (2019): Baidyanath Prasad Mahto (JDU)

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