Kishanganj: No poll heat in Congress seat up for grabs in triangular fight - Hindustan Times
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Kishanganj: No poll heat in Congress seat up for grabs in triangular fight

By, Kishanganj
Apr 17, 2024 09:24 PM IST

In impoverished Kishanganj, voters worry about rising prices, poverty, migration, and unemployment. Muslims unfazed by CAA. Winds of change with new ventures.

Shamshul, a farmer in his fifties, sitting at a small tea shop early Tuesday morning at Chichua Bari village in Pothia block, around 40 km from Kishanganj town, rues that his teenage son is still unemployed despite having an intermediate degree.

An inundated village at Bahadurganj in Kishanganj, a district where flood is a perennial problem. (HT photo)
An inundated village at Bahadurganj in Kishanganj, a district where flood is a perennial problem. (HT photo)

“I have eked out a living by doing farming. My son does not want to go to the field. What is his future? There are no jobs, no factories here. Migration is rampant. Why do we have to live like this? What is the use of elections?” he says.

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Kamru Jama, a jute farmer, laments how the prices of the natural fibre crop has dropped over the years and there is no state intervention to provide better prices to jute farmers.

A little over a week before polling in Kishanganj — a Muslim-dominated parliamentary seat bordering West Bengal and Nepal and close to the Indo-Bangladesh border — the mood of the voters in the impoverished district is low.

Rising prices, poverty, migration, unemployment and poor health care are some of the key concerns among the voters.

Surprisingly, most of the Muslims here are unruffled by the union government’s decision to notify the rules of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), an issued raised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself at his rally in neighbouring Purnea on Tuesday. The legislation, which seeks to confer citizenship rights on non-Muslim minorities from the neighbouring countries, is finding little resonance among Muslims here. “We have nothing to fear. We are Biharis and Indians. Why should we talk about CAA or NRC? These are just poll gimmicks,” says M D Kasim, a septuagenarian in Pothia block of Kishanganj.

In fact, the feverish electioneering seen elsewhere is missing in Kishanganj, which has more than 18 lakh voters and is one of the poorest districts in Bihar with a per capita income of 23,000 ( as per Economic Survey 2022) and a low literacy level.

This time, the parliamentary seat is set to witness a triangular fight among sitting Congress MP Mohammed Jawaid , Muzahid Alam of the Janata Dal (United) and Akhtarul Iman, the state unit president of AIMIM (All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen).

In 2019 parliamentary polls, Congress retained Kishanganj, the lone seat won by the RJD-led alliance out of the total 40 in Bihar. The BJP-led NDA swept the polls, winning 39 seats.

Winds of change

The gloomy picture apart, there are also winds of change. Driving around the constituency on roads that have become better and bridges that have come up in big numbers, one can see the changed landscape — acres of standing maize crops, small tea gardens that have sprung up in the district as businessmen set up new ventures.

Though the tea industry does not create much employment, many farmers who have small parcels of land have switched to growing maize, a venture much more profitable than conventional crops like paddy or pulses.

“We have switched to maize and it is quite viable. We are getting 2,100 per quintal by middlemen who come to pick up the produce. Not all can work or set up a tea garden. It is for the moneyed class,” says M D Kasim, a resident of Gera Mari in Thakurganj assembly segment.

Ram Rai, a 34-year-old mason, has returned home after working of seven years at a restaurant in Mumbai. “I now do mason work on construction sites. Life is hard here as employment is scarce, but home is home,” he says. “A bridge connecting Islampur to Chattergach has come as a boon. It has enhanced connectivity,” he says.

Locals also acknowledge that the power situation in the area has improved.

Pending projects

Kishanganj has seen intense politicking over the pending project of setting up of a centre of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It started off in 2014, but is still functioning out of two buildings. The state government has transferred 224 acres of land, but it has run into dispute after allegations that a large portion of the contiguous land falls in Mahanananda river basin.The matter was referred to the National Green Tribunal and later sent to National Mission for Clean Ganga. The construction of centre on the land is still pending.

The sitting Congress MP, Jawaid, says he has raised the matter several times in Parliament. “The central government is starving AMU-K of funds. The campus has still not come up and the matter of land clearance is pending. It reflects how the state and central governments are anti-Seemanchal,” he says.

Akhtarul Iman, MLA and the AIMIM candidate, voices similar frustrations over the delay. “If land adjacent to AMU-K campus for police lines can be used for construction, why is work for AMU-K building suspended? Why is the dispute not being resolved,” he says, blaming both state and central governments.

However, JD(U) MLC Khalid Anwar defended the state government. “It is the AMU’s legal cell which has to represent its case rightly. Chief minister Nitish Kumar has tried hard to extend all co-operation to the AMU in this regard. Our government has already transferred two buildings of the minority welfare department for AMU-K centre, which is running out of these buildings,” Anwar says.

The MLC claimed that the state government had given a big impetus to construction of roads, bridges and agriculture in the district and also set up several high schools, besides assisting state-run madrasas and an agriculture college.

Another major perennial problem facing the region is recurrent floods because of several rivers flowing through the district, including Mahananda, Donk,Mechi and Ramazan.

Kishanganj seat, along with Katihar, Purnia, Bhagalpur and Banka in Bihar, goes to vote on April 26 in the second phase of the seven-phase parliamentary polls being held in the country.

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