Reporter’s Diary from Battleground Bihar

Akhilesh Suman

Muzaffarpur: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar share a light moment during an election rally, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in Muzaffarpur, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (PTI Photo)

Muzaffarpur: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar share a light moment during an election rally, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in Muzaffarpur, Tuesday, April 30, 2019. (PTI Photo)

In traveling from Patna to Madhepura, Begusarai, Munger and Darbhanga via Samastipur to cover the fourth phase of parliamentary elections in Bihar, is an enlightening experience. It gives good sense on the scheme of things in the state. It shows you the changing face of Bihar over the last many years. It gives you a feeling that the state is in the take-off period in terms of development and that the flood gates of investment will open in coming years if managed meticulously.

In Patna, you can now travel around in the night too – at whatever time you wish. Even outside Patna, on the long highways, you can travel without problems to neighbouring cities. This is a major shift in the administration of the state in comparison to the previous tenure of Lalu Prasad when Bihar was virtually slipping into a state controlled by those who indulged in loot.

Ask anyone – an auto driver, a truck driver or even common commuters – everyone remembers the days under Lalu Prasad Yadav with horror!

Nitish Kumar has been in power in the state for last 14 years, sometimes with BJP as an ally and sometimes with RJD as an ally. But his continuity in power has given the much needed stability to the state administration.

Roads in Bihar can now boast of being at par with other states. Ask anyone, and they will tell you the roads were constructed, only because the state administration could rein in criminals, and the contractors were allowed to work without any threat to their lives.

The only problem I faced during this travel was in Madhepura, where roads were in shambles. People in that region complained and felt isolated by the state government. When I probed further, I found that it was ILFS that was given the contract for road construction, but the company later became bankrupt nationally and construction had to be halted.

Madhepura is considered a bastion of the Yadav caste. BP Mandal, the chairman of the Mandal Commission for reservation for OBCs in the country, made it famous. Adjoining Madhepura is Supaul, again a bastion of the Yadavs, but here the infrastructure is good.

In Madhepura, Sharad Yadav is fighting on an RJD ticket. He likes to be called a candidate of the Grand Alliance. He is confronted with Pappu Yadav who wanted to be a political heir of Lalu Prasad, but was denied ticket and is now fighting as independent. JD(U) has fielded Dinesh Chandra Yadav, who hopes to reap benefit, in the fights between the two Yadavs.

Supaul is again a fight between Pappu Yadav’s wife, who is fighting on Congress ticket and JD(U) candidate, who is also a Yadav! People in the region said that they were confused as Pappu Yadav was against the grand alliance while his wife was representing it!

In look and feel, Begusarai completely contrasts Madhepura and Supaul. Begusarai is Bhumihar bastion and quite developed. According to officials, it is the biggest revenue supplier to the state government. The district has given many ministers in the Congress governments in the state. But surprisingly, it also became major centre of communists. In the past, the Bhumihars in alliance with Dalits and OBCs fought with landlord Bhumihars. That is probably why many Bhumihars don’t like someone like Kanhaiya Kumar again getting a foothold in the region. Kanhaiya is contesting on a CPI ticket from Begusarai Lok Sabha constituency.

Munger, again is a Bhumihar bastion, but is a historical town that used to be a cherished place by the British rulers. Now, it appears to be overcrowded. People crave for drinking water even when it is on the banks of Ganga. JD(U) has fielded Rajiv Ranjan Singh, popularly known as Lalan Singh, right hand man of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. He is confronted with Neelam Devi, wife of Anant Singh who was with JD(U) earlier. Anant singh is considered to be a muscleman of the area. Both Lalan Singh and Anant singh belong to the same Bhumihar caste. Because of bubbling populations and overcrowding by small local businesses, Munger is not very welcoming for outsiders.

There is a striking similarity between Anant Singh of Munger and Pappu Yadav of Madhepura. Both are considered to be musclemen, but are very popular among their constituencies, cutting across caste lines. People say that both Anant Singh and Pappu Yadav are available for common people in times of need, as opposed to hard core politicians like Sharad Yadav and Lalan Singh.

When travelling to Samastipur, which is a reserved constituency for Scheduled Castes, reminded me of the arrest of Lal Krishna Advanj, one of the co-founders and senior leaders of BJP. When Advani was on his Ram Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya, he was arrested in Samastipur by the Lalu Yadav government in October 1990. The incident also reminded me of RK Singh, who was given the task by the Lalu government of arresting the senior BJP leader. The place Advani was arrested, is now named Vijay Raghvan stadium. RK Singh is now a BJP leader himself, and a minister in the union cabinet. Bihar, in many ways has seen history being created. It was Advani’s Rath Yatra that changed the fate of BJP, which forced the then national front government headed by VP Singh to collapse, and it virtually paved the way for BJP to emerge big.

It is from Samastipur that LJP leader Ramchandra Paswan is contesting, who is the younger brother of Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. He had won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections by around seven thousand votes by defeating Ashok Ram of Congress. This time around, Congress hopes to do better. However, since JD(U) is in an ally in the NDA, it will not be an easy task for Congress, because last time it was a three-cornered contest and JD(U) was against the LJP.

My last destination for the fourth phase of elections was Darbhanga – a place of lovely Maithili speaking people who love to chew nettle leaves, eat crushed rice with curd and fish and Makhana, a water born dry fruit! It’s a bastion of Maithili Brahmins and Muslims. The BJP has fielded Gopal Ji Thakur, a Maithili Brahmin; And RJD has pitched Abdul Bari Siddiqui, a known leader and a close aide of Lalu Prasad. Both of these are new candidates as BJP’s former MP Kirti Azad now belongs to the Congress and is not fighting from this constituency. RJD too has to face challenges as its old candidate AA Fatmi was not allowed to file nomination papers who was a front runner in the last election.

To spoil RJD’s fate, BSP has also fielded a Muslim candidate. Many Muslims told me that he will cut some votes from the RJD vote bank. Darbhanga, a place famous for the medical college and hospital, LN Mishra University, Darbhanga Maharaj, and a cultural hub of Mithila after Madhubani, is now facing a tough fight between national and local issues.