Divided over development claims, it’s BJP-JD(U) vs RJD in Darbhanga Lok Sabha seat
Ram Khelawan Sao, 50, sits with fellow villagers on the roadside tea stall at Vinobanagar in the interiors of Darbhanga, as vehicles pass. Vinobanagar is named after great social reformer Vinoba Bhave, who provided land to the landless in the village decades ago.
Khelawan’s enthusiasm is immediately visible when asked about development in the area. “Look at this road. A decade ago, you would have had to wade through muck and negotiate with craters. There is electricity in every home now. We watch TV. People have got gas cylinders. Things are happening,” he goes on, as others nod in affirmation.
They face bigger issues, but they don’t expect the government to solve them. “Vinobaji had distributed eight bighas of land among 25 families, but now the families have multiplied and landholdings got fragmented. With vagaries of nature, agriculture is no more sustainable,” says Jagdish Mukhiya, a 70-year-old sharecropper, adding the villagers mostly do sharecropping, as they have no land of their own, but the government benefits elude them.
At Bhawanipur village, close to the house of Darbhanga BJP candidate Gopaljee Thakur, people talk of personal grievances, but still vouch for Narendra Modi. The village has a mix of forward, backward and extremely backward class population, but all seem to talk in one voice – for BJP and JD-U. “One who does development should get votes. Caste will not feed us. People come for votes, but never return after that,” says Santosh Mandala, who works in Haryana as driver.
The mood changes a little ahead in Alinagar, the bastion of seven-term RJD MLA and former Bihar finance minister Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who is contesting the Lok Sabha election for the first time from Darbhanga. He fought from Madhubani seat twice earlier, but lost. This time, RJD preferred him over three-time former Darbhanga MP Ali Ashraf Fatmi, who quit the party and is contesting a BSP ticket from Madhubani.
“All votes will go to RJD here. Women will also vote for him. People have seen Siddiqui and his work. Winning seven times is not easy, but Fatmi is also a respected man. Last time he lost by a small margin. In Darbhanga, it is difficult to predict anything this time,” says Huril Yadav, who is associated with Jeevika, having 550 women.
Siddiqui’s popularity is higher than the BJP nominee in many areas, but in the nationalistic fervour that the BJP has been trying to build, he is also hesitating to counter it intelligently with his own narrative, as he did by describing Godse as India’s first terrorist and challenging BJP to say “Godse murdabad”.
“Both candidates are contesting for the first time, but Siddiqui has respect among all sections, even among those who will not vote for him. You never know. In this part, Siddiqui has an edge, but things can change every few kms as you move around. Former MP Ali Ashraf Fatmi’s insult by RJD may also have impact,” said 27-year-old Ajay Kumar.
THE CRUCIAL SAHNIS
At Amtaur village, the Sahni community is also for the BJP, though they are aware that Vikas Inshaan Party (VIP) chief Mukesh Sahni is with the Grand Alliance (GA) this time and is himself in the fray from Khagaria. “We cannot deny roads, electricity, gas, toilets etc., as they are before us. Mukesh Sahni is with GA, but he is not getting support there. Everyone seems to be working to defeat his party,” say Anirudh Sahni, 54. and Dhaneshwar Sahni, 50.
Thanks to the reach of television, they are aware of all political developments and excitedly narrate the Ali-Bajrangbali debate on channels, the Pakistan narrative and the political flux in neighbouring Madhubani, where the VIP candidate seems to be fighting a bigger battle within GA. Sahnis constitute a significant chunk in Darbhanga, a reason why it was VIP leader Mukesh Sahni’s first choice, but the echo from neighbouring districts are no music for the GA’ ears.
“There is still time left. A lot will happen in the last 3-4 days. Last time also we voted for Narendra Modi and this time, it should be no different. Had Mukesh Sahni fought from Darbhanga, we would have thought differently, as he is from our own community, but he is himself fighting a tough battle within GA,” says Ravindra Sahni, reminding people that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a rally in Darbhanga on April 25.
People have their own issues, but that is not finding echo anywhere, as the talks mostly revolve round Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar and the Mahagathbandhan. Two imposing posters of the BJP greet the commuters on the national highway entering Darbhanga near Mabbi. Elsewhere, posters of parties are not as conspicuous.
Details of the NYAY scheme of the Congress have not yet reached the masses and even if some know about it, they don’t believe it could be a reality due to strong counter campaign through social media. In the era of mobile phones, mental conditioning is happening more potently and unfailingly away from the public rallies.
“Election me aise hi hota hai. Ye sab amir logon ke liye hoga. Garib ko khud mehnat karna parega (It all happens during during election. It will turn out to be for the rich only. Poor have to sweat it out). There is never ‘justice’ with the poor, no matter who forms the government,” says Naresh Mandal at Ashapur.
Dried up rivers and water bodies, rampant migration and complaints of corruption in public delivery system are all, too, conspicuous, but all of them seem to be overshadowed. Machch (fish) and makhana (gorgon nut), once synonymous with Darbhanga, are the biggest casualty, while farming is solely dependent on erratic monsoons.
“Hundreds of ponds in Darbhanga disappeared over the years due to mindless development schemes and organised encroachment. Concrete structures dot the entire town devoid of wide roads, while water bodies have vanished and encroachment has mushroomed,” says AK Singh, a resident of Darbhanga town.
Those who had to return due to joblessness are again gearing up to make fresh moves, but they no longer feel votes could change the course of their life.
“Agriculture is subsistence. If there is flood and drought, the sharecroppers are the worst hit. As a result, they have no option but to move to other towns for livelihood, leaving their families back home,” says Ashutosh Choudhary of Pakri.
While Darbhanga town seems to be still struggling due to unplanned growth, its periphery and interiors are much better placed when it comes to road connectivity. “Poor people will go to the one providing them benefit. Caste alone will not lead to blind voting. Poor people have limited choice and they cannot close their eyes to positive change. We have seen the situation earlier also,” says elderly Baleshwar Das, a mason, at Pulhad village..
Former Lalit Narayan Mithila University (LNMU) vice chancellor SM Jha says that the fight in Darbhanga has boiled down to a direct contest. “The sentiment seems to be building in favour of the BJP, but the past history shows that it has always witnessed a close contest due to its demography. This time, it could be no different,” he adds.
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After the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) landslide victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in his Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi on a thanksgiving visit on Monday.He marked his visit by offering prayers at the Kashi Vishwanath temple before heading to address party workers.Modi won the Varanasi parliamentary seat by a margin 4,79,505 votes, defeating his nearest rival Shalini Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.Follow highlights here: