Bihar Assembly election | Migrant workers express hurt over lockdown but older voting loyalties also remain

Migrant labourers return on foot to their homes in Saharsa, Bihar from Mugalsarai in Uttar Pradesh. File   | Photo Credit: Ranjeet Kumar

Mrityunjay Kumar worked as a tailor at a small boutique in Noida when a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was announced. He found himself without a job and far from his home in the Mahmudpur village in Jehanabad district of Bihar. Like many whose travails were documented in visually searing images, he first tried to arrange a bus that would take him home, and later took a truck ride to Ghaziabad Railway Station, where he had been told that a train would take him to Patna.

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“I waited 25 hours without decent food or drink at the station for the train, and finally made it home,” he told The Hindu outside his semi-pucca home. “Here, I was put into quarantine for 14 days in the village school,” he said, adding that he was waiting to leave, but saw no prospect of work very soon. The election season has caught him in the raw, and he questions the need for it right now. “If the polling booth does not have adequate protection, I will not cast my vote. The fear of corona led to the lockdown and forced me into all sorts of hardships, and now the government thinks nothing of holding polls in such a situation. They have stopped schools, colleges, festivals but elections must go on?” he asks, his anger at the Bihar government quite obvious.

He is reluctant to talk politics, but admits that the anger and despair of migrant workers from Bihar will be reflected in the Assembly polls. “Jaise bazaar, gaadi ghoda par asar pada, waise chunaav par bhi asar dikhega (just as the pandemic affected markets, transportation, it will affect the polls),” he says.

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His point is supported by Saurav Kumar, a taxi driver from Mumbai, whom this correspondent met in Patna. Currently without a job and hailing from Paharpur village near Gaya, he says he will return to Mumbai once things are better there. He too squarely blames the State government for the plight of workers from Bihar, especially a statement by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on why migrants should not return to Bihar and spend the lockdown in the host States. “He should have spoken to the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra and Gujarat, ensured our welfare,” he says. Mr. Saurav Kumar is a traditional Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supporter and intends to vote for the Mahagathbandhan (“grand alliance”) candidate.

Mrityunjay Kumar. Photo: Special arrangement

Mrityunjay Kumar. Photo: Special arrangement  


Mr. Saurav Kumar, however, does not speak for all migrant workers who moved back, not even for some others in his own village. Ramadhar Singh was on a visit home during the “Phagwa” (March) holiday just before the lockdown was announced, so he escaped the exodus. His view is that the events following the lockdown were triggered by the mahamari (pandemic) rather than individual governments. “Yeh toh mahamari ka dosh hai, isme Nitish Kumar ka kya dosh hai? (in a pandemic, how fair is it to blame Nitish?),” he queries.

Ranjit Kumar, who worked as construction worker in Prayagraj, moved back to Lodhipur village again in Jehanabad during “Unlock 3”, when he finally got some transport back to Bihar. Currently unemployed, he says that he will be voting in these polls and for electing back Nitish Kumar as he says that nothing he has seen of the alternative has been encouraging a shift in choice.

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Every election hangs between the two points of mahaul (atmosphere) and samikaran (voter block equations), goes the popular wisdom on polls in Bihar. While hurt feelings exist among people, older voting loyalties haven’t completely evaporated. Very clearly, therefore, seven months after lockdown, opinion is still divided, and the election, considered a one-sided affair even a few weeks ago, is not a sure thing any more.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 3:26:39 PM |

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