Bihar Assembly Elections | Battleground Seemanchal can turn a swing region

For sustenance: Children wading through a flooded field to collect fish in Korha, Bihar.   | Photo Credit: Sobhana K. Nair

For the Opposition alliance, particularly the Congress, in Bihar, Seemanchal is a critical ground that they need to hold on to in order to have a real shot at winning the Assembly election.

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Comprising Purnia, Katihar, Kishanganj and Araria districts, 24 Assembly seats. The Congress holds eight now, the RJD three and the CPI(ML) one, totalling 12. The BJP and the JD(U) hold six each. In 2015, the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress fought together, while the BJP fought with the Lok Janshakti Party and others.

In many ways, Seemanchal is different from the rest of Bihar. The most obvious one is the demographic make-up. This area has a 47% Muslim population as against Bihar’s state-wide average of 17%. It is among the most backward regions, often ignored by the political class of Patna. Purnea University, the only university here, came into existence just two years ago in 2018. The average literacy rate of the four districts is 54% against Bihar’s average of 64%. The average per capita income is ₹10,000 as against ₹14,574 for the State.

Most of the year, floods submerge the area. This year, for example, paddy crops just a few weeks from harvest were destroyed in floods; in many cases, it was the third crop of the year to be destroyed. The main roads vanish every few kilometres and interior roads in villages are merely dirt paths. Scenes of children wading into flooded fields to catch fish with bare hands to supplement their families’ income is common.

The final tally for the Congress will depend on its performance here. Out of the 27 seats that the party won in 2015, a much-celebrated performance for the Congress, eight were from this region. This time, it is contesting 11 seats. In seven of those seats, it faces Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen. What makes the contest tough is the anti-incumbency faced by the Congress MLAs who have been around for long.

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The party betrayed its nervousness at a rally in Kishanganj on Tuesday attended by former Congress President Rahul Gandhi. The Congress candidate — Abdus Jaleel Mastan — used inappropriate language against Mr. Owaisi. He threatened to break Mr. Owaisi’s backbone and send him to Hyderabad.

The BJP has often managed to sneak through whenever there has been a division of the Muslim vote. In the 2010 Assembly election, BJP candidate Santosh Kumar Kushwaha managed to win by nearly 10,000 votes from Baisi, a Muslim majority constituency.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 8:32:05 AM |

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