Bihar Assembly Elections | Opinion on extended nationwide lockdown varies on caste, religious lines

There are no official figures on how many people migrate for work out of Bihar each year. As per reports, 25-30 lakh migrant workers returned home during the lockdown. File photo for representation.   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Seven months on after lakhs of migrant workers returned to their homes, many on foot, following the announcement of sudden and extended nationwide lockdown, the narrative on the ground in Bihar is divided over religious and caste lines.

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There are no official figures on how many people migrate for work out of Bihar each year. As per reports, 25-30 lakh migrant workers returned home during the lockdown.

The anger against the Nitish Kumar government on lack of employment opportunities leaving no option but to migrate is all pervasive. The voter is clear in this election that ‘bijli-paani-sadak’ (electricity-water-road) is not the only parameter of development.

But, depending on where you are standing and who you are speaking to, the view about the Narendra Modi government’s culpability changes.

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In Simalbari village, in Kishanganj, Khurshid Alam is livid. His four brothers worked at a garment factory in Ludhiana. They had been living there for four years. The extended lockdown, meant no food or air as the police would not let them step out of their cramped quarters. Their family had to send money, which it borrowed on interest, to bring the four back home. “They set us back by five years. It will take us a long time to pay back the loan. How come coronavirus was only for the common man. There is no coronavirus now that Modiji is doing election rallies,” Mr. Alam said. As soon as the travel restrictions were lifted, his brothers were back in Ludhiana.

‘What is Modi’s fault in it?’

Just a few kilometres away in Mahesh Batna village, Lalchand Singh who belongs to the Dalit community of Rajvanshi, recalls how his brother, who worked in Bengaluru, waited many days hoping that the lockdown would be lifted using whatever little money he had. When he and others with him realised that the lockdown might not be lifted any time soon, they pooled in whatever money they had and hired a bus to return. They still had to stay in quarantine. The lockdown also meant that the villagers, who usually leave for Punjab during the harvest and sowing season, could not go due to the travel restrictions and lost one part of their key annual income. But do they blame Mr. Modi for this hasty decision? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. “What is Modi’s fault in it? Modi is only trying to save the country. This is a foreign disease. If he had not imposed lockdown in time, then we all would have contracted it,” Mr. Singh said.

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Demonetisation blamed

In Pranpur Assembly constituency, Katihar, Fayaz Alam, 19, who was working as an electrician in Mumbai took five days to return after spending ₹8,000 and since then he has not able to garner the courage to return. Mr. Alam does not speak much, but others around him are enraged. “Why do our children have to go outside of Bihar. Nitish says he brought roads and water. Will these roads feed our stomachs, there are no factories here, the few ones have been shut. And then we have Modi ji to top it, he has only been taking decisions that hurt us, from demonetisation to lockdown,” Mohmmad Salim said.

Some 70 km away, in Damdaha constituency, a group of Dalits from Godi community effusively praise Mr. Modi, the free grains and ₹500 per month for a period of three months given to women Jan Dhan account holders. Suman Kumar, who worked at a steel plant in Hyderabad took 10 days to return after spending ₹5,000. He was not eager to revisit the miserable time he spent finding his way back home. But standing next to him, Shambhu Singh, a farm hand, finds no fault with Mr. Modi’s sudden announcement. “No government has given us a single paisa till now and he gave us ₹500 for three months to feed our children ‘dal’ and ‘sabzi’. Can we forget that,” he asserts.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 7:48:46 PM |

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