Stage set for polls in Bihar’s Maoist-hit areas
A decade ago, farmer Rameshwar Bhagat left Barachhati in Bihar’s Gaya district for Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi, to work in a bangle factory. Life was good until the Covid-19 pandemic left him jobless, forcing him to return home in the hope of finding a local job in the region that was once a Maoist hub.
Left-wing extremism has declined and the sight of Maoist rebels moving around the hills with guns is rare, but jobs are as elusive to find as they ever were, he found . Farming is a challenge because a pyne (artificial rivulets led off from rivers for irrigation purposes) that used to run through Bhagat’s field dried up three year ago.
“Left with no option, I rented a borewell to carry water to my field for cultivation of paddy on two bighas of land. I will look for work in other states after harvesting the standing crop,” said the 40-year-old who supports a family of five.
The life of ordinary people is miserable as ever, Bhagat said, although at election time, politicians are generous in their promise of bringing change to Bihar.
Lack of job creation has emerged as one of the key campaign issues ahead of the October 28, November 3 and November 7 elections in Bihar. The opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of jailed former chief minister Lalu Prasad has promised to create a million government jobs, which current CM Nitish Kumar said is not possible, if it is voted to power. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the partner of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), has promised 1.9 million jobs.
“Politics has become a game of rhetoric. Tall promises are made every time by leaders, but they are conveniently forgotten for the next five years after every election,” said Ramjeet Singh, a retired school teacher.
To be sure, jobs are not the only issue in the elections to be held amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic. The state government’s handling of migrants who returned home in the aftermath of the lockdown imposed in March to curb the spread of the disease, and management of monsoon floods, are a campaign topic as is the farm crisis and Maoism. As ever, caste will play a role in determining the outcome.
Barachhati and Imamganj are two of the 71 constituencies in 16 south Bihar districts that go to the polls in the first round of the three-phase election. More than two dozen constituencies in eight districts, including Gaya, Aurangabad, Nawada, Lakhisarai, Munger and Jamui, are considered vulnerable to Maoist violence.
Electors in the region are set to determine the fate of former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi (Imamganj) and members of the Nitish Kumar government like agriculture minister Prem Kumar (Gaya town), labour minister Vijay Kumar Sinha (Lakhisrarai), land reforms minister Ram Narayan Mandal (Banka), mines minister Brij Kisore Bind (Chainpur), science and technology minister Jai Kumar Singh (Dinara), transport minister Santosh Nirala (Rajpur) and education minister Krishnandan Verma (Ghosi)., who are seeking their re-election.
The elections in Magadh, another region where Maoists hold influence, are also significant. The RJD-led Mahagathbandhan, or grand alliance, when it contested the assembly elections with the JD(U) as a partner in 2015, virtually swept the polls by winning 20 out of 26 seats.
The situation is different this time because the JD(U) is now a part of the BJP-led NDA. The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), considered the Dalit face of the NDA, is contesting 42 seats in the first phase of the elections on its own after pulling out of the NDA because of ideological differences with Nitish Kumar. .
In the Magadh region alone, the RJD won as many as 10 seats in 2015, JD(U) managed to win six and the Congress four. The BJP had to be content with four seats.
The RJD and the Congress may find themselves on a sticky wicket in the Nawada and Govindpur constituencies. The last winning candidate of the RJD from Nawada, Raj Ballabh Yadav, is still in jail on charges of raping a minor and the Congress’s Poornima Yadav has returned to the, JD (U).
Ravindra Pathak, a professor of Magadh University and social activist, said: “There are plenty of issues which shall determine the direction of the elections. But people of this region are completely indifferent. The farm sector crisis, unemployment, migration, outbreak of the coronavirus disease, Naxalism and recurring water crises could have been major public issues. But issues hardly matter in the elections these days in the clamour of caste and community politics.”