Bihar Assembly elections | Jungle Raj, Babu Raj and now what, ask voters

Security personnel carrying Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) arrive on the eve of first phase of Bihar Assembly Elections, in Kaimur district, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI


A common refrain in the northern belt of Bihar is the lack of ‘vikalp’ or option the voter is looking for a change but does not know where to go. People say the ‘jungle raj’ has been replaced by a ‘babu raj’ (bureaucrats’ rule), and muscle power replaced by money power.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and BJP leaders talk about development. But voters say this development is coming at a cost. Umesh Mandal, a daily wager in the Rupauli constituency of Purnia district, sums up, “Road ka badmash salta gaya. Block main badmash ko la kar baitha diya. Sarkar kehti hai, road main dakaity kyun karte ho, block main aa kar directly karo [The criminals are no longer on the road, they are now sitting in block offices. The government says why do roadside dacoity, let’s do it sitting inside the block offices.]

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Corruption is a common theme in this election and perhaps the only recent parallel of such a sharp discourse against bribery was in the 2014 general election against the Congress-led UPA government. People complain about being forced to pay “cuts” for every little work, from getting their pension to government entitlements such as the Indira Awas Yojana, where the government gives funds to construct a pucca or brick house.

“If you want a house under the Indira Awas Yojana, then you have to pay ₹ 30,000 in bribes. For toilets, under the Swachch Bharat Mission, you have to shell out ₹ 2000. There is some error in my voter ID card. To get that corrected, I have to pay ₹ 200,” says an exasperated Kedarnath Mahant, who is from the Tanti community, an extremely backward caste.

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List is long and urgent

People point out how roads last only a season, prohibition that is only on paper, about vapour street lamps that were promised but not delivered, about schools that have buildings but no teachers, about graduates who are lazying around the village without any viable employment. The list is long and urgent. Equally strong is the refrain for a change and the lament that there is no option.

“Nitish hamari mazboori hai, option hi kya hai,” Mijesh Kumar from Damadaha Dakshin says. He is clear: his choice in Narendra Modi, and the vote for the NDA is a vote for Mr. Modi. Mr. Kumar and his friends, all sitting around a machan, rue about unemployment. “If there were factories here, why would anyone go to Punjab,” says Ravikant Thakur, who belongs to the Nai community. But ask them about RJD’s chief minister contender Tejashwi Yadav’s poll promise of 10 lakh jobs, Mr. Thakur observes that he can’t be their choice. “We want Modi, so we have to vote for Nitish”.

Subash Shah, who runs a small roadside stall about 30 km away from Purnia town, points at the road ahead with its top layer missing with just stones and gravel and vehicles plying on it rhythmically jingle jangle. “Vote dena padega Modi ko hi, Lalu ko dete hai toh laaltain bujh jaayega,” [will have to vote for Modi, if we vote for Lalu, then the hurricane lamp will be doused], he says.

Miles away at the Banmakhi constituency, Vijay Kumar, who belongs to the Mallah community, says he is voting for Mr. Modi and not for Mr. Nitish Kumar. “We don’t want Nitish as our chief minister,” he asserts. There is no cogent explanation as to why he wants Mr. Kumar replaced except that he has been at the helm for 15 years.

Memories of Lalu-Rabri regime

And memories and stories of the 15-year Lalu-Rabri regime are still alive, at least in the minds of some. At Forbesganj, in Araria district, a lively debate ensues on Mr. Nitish Kumar vs Mr. Lalu Prasad. Vishnu Dev Yadav, a daily wager, speaks nostalgically about how Mr. Prasad gave them the social recognition, ensuring that they can sit across a forward caste person on a chair instead of being told to sit on the ground. Chandra Mandal a kurmi, snaps back, “Have you forgotten how the police used to snatch money from us. Any one with a gun was a raja back then,” he notes.

And it is not just Mr. Nitish Kumar’s loyal vote bank of kurmis and koeries, he has a few rare votaries among older Muslims too.

At the Korha assembly constituency, in Katihar district, Shahbuddin, who is in his early 40s and runs a vehicle repair shop gets, into a spat with 19-year-old first-time voter Mohammad Tariq, who is training to be an electrician. “No other government has done as much as the Nitish government has done. He got us roads, electricity... ” Mr. Shahbuddin says. ‘These are no favours’, Mr. Tariq interjects. “Road, water, electricity are our basic rights. By providing these, no government is doing us a favour,” he points out.

And Mr. Tariq is in no mood to buy the ‘jungle raj’ narrative. That was 15 years back, he says. Now things have changed. “My father is a farmer and I am studying in ITI. Father and son do not have to be alike,” he adds.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2020 12:24:26 PM |

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