In Gaya, Manjhi faces son of man who trounced him in 1991 - Hindustan Times
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In Gaya, Manjhi faces son of man who trounced him in 1991

By, Gaya
Apr 11, 2024 09:13 PM IST

Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, the NDA nominee, is pitted against RJD’s Kumar Sarvajeet, a former minister in Bihar govt.

Located on the banks of holy river of Falgu, Gaya is a much sought after destination in religious tourism, especially for Buddhists and Hindus across the world.

The Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya draws Buddhists from across the world. (HT file)
The Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya draws Buddhists from across the world. (HT file)

However, unlike many other places in its league in India that have seen transformation for the better, Gaya, where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, remains steeped in darkness with its poor infrastructure, deplorable roads and rampant encroachments.

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Locals rue that the district, founded in 1865, has failed to develop despite boasting landmark religious sites like Mahabodhi temple and ancient Vishupad temple, which draw lakhs of pilgrims from across the world. While Buddhists pay obeisance to Lord Buddha at his place of enlightenment, Hindus flock the town to offer pind-daan (prayers for slavation) for their departed ancestors.

“The city remains as it was 10 years ago. All that have happened are some symbolic changes in the name of development, which have conveniently bypassed the poor and the marginalised,” says Mohit Paswan, a resident of Bataspur village under Bodh Gaya, which is an assembly segment of Gaya.

More than 30% of the electors in Gaya, a Lok Sabha constituency reserved for scheduled castes (SC) for more than five decades, belong to the SC community.

Shortage of jobs for youth and diminishing returns from farm produce are issues that dominate discussions as the constituency gears up to witness a keen contest between NDA and INDIA nominees — Jitan Ram Manjhi, a former chief minister and founder of Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular, and Kumar Sarvajeet, a former minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader.

Gaya also happens to be an important traffic junction, connecting the national capital, West Bengal and Jharkhand by train and Varanasi, Ranchi and Kolkata by road. However, facilities at Gaya railway junction are still scarce. The much-awaited four-lane Patna-Gaya-Dobhi road (NH-83), which merges with the Grand Trunk road, is still incomplete, even though the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had awarded the work to build it as an expressway to ILFS Engineering and Construction Ltd in April 2014 with a three-year deadline to finish work at the cost of 1,232 crore. In 2018, the company pulled out, leaving about 80% of work incomplete.

The NHAI had to re-tender the project in 2019 with revised estimate of 2,015 crore. Five years on, the road is still under construction and travellers by road have to undergo a horrible four-hour journey with bumpy rides to reach Gaya from Patna, a distance of around 100 kilometres.

In 2002, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) has built and operationalised an international airport in Gaya, which mostly functioned as a seasonal airport for flight operations from Buddhist countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan and Sri Lanka during festivals. It was only a few years ago that a regular commercial flight started operating between Gaya and Delhi.

“All the development in infrastructure sector and some beautification works at religious spots are unable to create many jobs for local people. Inflation is at its peak and employment opportunities are at all-time low. Ram Temple at Ayodhya or scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution don’t help much here to create jobs,” says Tarkeshar Mahto, a vegetable seller at Behadih under Sherghati assembly segment.

A university professor at Magadh University, Bodh Gaya, who pleading anonymity, expresses confidence that Jitam Ram Manjhi would prove lucky in his fourth attempt to win Gaya Lok Sabha seat, chiefly because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma. “Youths are buoyed by the rise in status of India abroad under the Modi regime and rural residents feel obliged by getting free ration. Modi has awakened the Sanatan identity among the people. All will unite in favour of Manjhi once Modi ji visits here and calls for support,” the professor says.

Manjhi first contested Lok Sabha elections from Gaya in 1991 and was trounced by Rajesh Kumar, the father of Kumar Sarvajeet. He again contested from JD(U) in 2014 but was defeated again. In 2019, he contested on the symbol of his own party HAM-S but was again defeated by Vijay Kumar Manjhi of the JD(U).

Samresh Kushwaha, a native of Cherki village, has a different take. He believes Kumar Sarvajeet, who hails from Paswan community, will repeat his father’s feat and defeat Manjhi. “Yadavs and Paswans form a formidable combination with Muslims on their side in Gaya. Sarvajeet has good reputation among all castes, including Manjhis. The 2019 scenario, which had helped Vijay Manjhi gain lead in all six assembly segments, is unlikely to continue this time owing to people’s resentment against the Nitish Kumar regime,” says Kushwaha.

Also in the fray is Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate Sushma Kumari, who is banking on a sizable chunk of Ravidas community in the constituency. “Previous voting pattern indicates that the Ravidas community usually choses to side with BSP, oblivious of the fate of their votes. The NDA candidate might have benefitted if the BSP were not in the fray,” says Shankar Ravidas, an undergraduate of Gaya College.

However, BJP MLA from Gaya town and a minister, Prem Kumar, is confident BJP cadres, who are visiting door-to-door to make people aware about the works carried out in and around Gaya by PM Modi, will be able to counter the negative thinking. “Gaya will soon be getting two four-lane roads (Patna-Gaya-Dobhi and Gaya-Paharpur-Manpur-Bihar Sharif) for smooth connectivity, expansion and beautification of Gaya Junction at the cost of 300 crore and Vande Bharat and Rajdhani Express trains from Gaya. A five-star hotel is being built at a cost of 132 crore at Bodh Gaya. Renovation of important religious sites at a cost of 40 crore by the Centre under Bharat Darshan Yojna, construction of ropeway at Pretshila, Maa Dugeshwari and Brahmyoni are some other initiatives that will be matter during the voting,” he says.

RJD candidate Kumar Sarvajeet says he will give a voice to the people of Gaya in Parliament, which none of its previous MPs in the past 25 years could do. “As an agriculture minister, I have set up 350-crore centre of excellence for millet and soil conservation and introduced the concept of agri-clinic with 5 lakh government support to each unit. Besides, I had proposed building a Connaught Place like centre around Mahabodi temple at the cost of 100 crore, the proposal for which is still pending in the government for clearance,” says Sarvajeet.

Jitan Ram Manjhi’s son and minister Santosh Kumar Suman says his father is seeking election to change the outlook of Gaya as an international destination. “Gaya and Bodh Gaya lagged behind, owing to lack of political will and vision to develop. A lot has been done to build infrastructure, but it requires raising resources that will not only beautify the city, but also generate jobs for local entrepreneurs,” says Suman.

Constituency watch

Intro: Gaya is a pilgrim hub for Hindus and Buddhists, and an important rail and road traffic junction in north India connection Delhi and Kolkata

Total number of voters: 18,13,183

Date of voting: April 19

Candidates in fray: Ex-CM Jitan Ram Manjhi (HAM), Kumar Sarvajeet (RJD), Sushma Kumari (BSP)

Winners in last two LS polls: Vijay Manjhi (JDU) in 2019; Hari Manjhi (BJP) in 2014

Assembly segments: Gaya Town, Bodh Gaya, Sherghati, Barachatti, Belaganj, Wazirganj

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Subhash Pathak is special correspondent of Hindustan Times with over 15 years of experience in journalism, covering issues related to governance, legislature, police, Maoism, urban and road infrastructure of Bihar and Jharkhand.

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