Bihar Mobile: Why No One Can Call the State’s Bipolar Contest
Why I wouldn’t bet my money on either of the two alliances in Bihar.
Raju belongs to Ram Vilas Paswan’s ‘Lojpa’ (LJP) votebank, has been a long-time supporter of Lalu’s ‘Rajad’ (RJD), votes for Nitish’s ‘Jadayu’ (JDU) and is taken in by the ‘Bhajpa’ (BJP) campaign, but might just choose the local Congressman this time round. “He won’t make me sit on the floor when I approach him,” says Raju, our taxi driver in Patna.
The contradiction explains why no one in Bihar is convinced with the pre-poll surveys that predict a narrow margin of victory for the BJP.
Day 1: Modi & Money Talk in Patna
The business class of our early morning Air India flight from Delhi to Patna was bustling with two Union Ministers – Jayant Sinha and Kalraj Mishra and their personal security officers (PSO). In Patna, Sanjay Mayukh, the BJP’s senior-most party worker received the two leaders, but the patiently assembled media got nothing from them. This was a day ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s big rally in Samastipur ahead of the first phase of elections and there seemed to be no time for sound bites.
Raju, who meets us at the airport will be our driver all through the week. “All hotels and taxis in Patna are booked by the BJP”, he tells us.“Not just for the last month or two” he adds, “but from before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections”. This has translated to brisk business for taxi drivers like Raju who speaks with a sense of awe about the sheer scale of the party’s election campaign.
Day 2: BJP’s Appeal in Patna
BJP’s appeal seems to cut across all socio-economic classes in Patna. We meet 25-year-old Kislay Khan at one of the many burgeoning malls in the city. He has spent Rs 3 crore on imported equipment for a bowling-alley. “Patna had no decent place to hang out, when we were growing up”, says Kislay and acknowledges that it is because of Nitish’s good governance that he was able to set up a bowling alley without being targeted by extortionists. His admiration however, is short-lived because he believes having the same government at the central and the state will help Bihar climb up the development indices.
Day 3: Phir Ek Baar Nitish Sarkaar?
Patna’s landscape and its youth seem to be all about Modi’s development pitch. But the narrative, as we found out, alters just 100 kilometres out of the city. Smaller, cleaner, greener—Samastipur is a town that cast its vote in the first phase of the election. Here, Nitish’s appeal cuts across classes.
The town’s Bhola Talkies is a 900-seater cinema hall that has been in existence since 1958. The single screen theatre is currently showing Aishwarya Rai’s latest movie Jazbaa to a rather lean crowd that understandably multiplies during Bhojpuri shows.
We find that roadshows and fly-by campaign vehicles bearing BJP flags and blaring songs set to popular Bhojpuri tunes are a common sight on the road leading to Samastipur town. But the owner, the manager and even the man hidden in the theatre’s projector room believe, that the BJP’s high-octane campaign and massive crowds will not translate into votes.
They remember with very little fondness about the time when crude bombs were thrown inside the theatre complex during Lalu’s ‘Jungle Raj’ and continue to put their faith in the current Chief Minister.
Ironically, their vote for Nitish will translate into a vote for a young Muslim RJD candidate Akhtarul Islaam Shaheen in Samastipur who they agree “has done a good job and continues to look promising”.
Day 4: BJP, a Default Option for Women
It’s the same story at Samastipur’s ‘Apsara Beauty Parlour’. Ardent Nitish supporters, they credit him for building roads, encouraging girls to go to school and ending “Apharan”, which, as we find out, in Bihar refers to a period of time, not a single incident.
“Four policemen used to accompany my three-year-old daughter to school”, Madhulika Singh, a customer at the beauty parlour, tells us. Her husband, was a businessman and was shot dead during Lalu’s reign.
Not surprisingly, Madhulika refuses to come to terms with the Grand Alliance. “Anybody could hire a contract killer for peanuts”, she recalls and says she’d rather vote for the BJP than bring Lalu back to power.
It takes a great effort to convince beautician Anu that we do not have time for a facial and we’re pleasantly surprised when we discover that she’s even more forceful about her political opinions. The 23-year-old says women’s safety is an issue that she does not expect the RJD to resolve.
Intentions, and not clothes, are wrong. Kidnappings and corruption was rampant during Lalu’s 15 years. Did we see any development? Absolutely not. Nitish has done a lot, but why did he have to join hands with Lalu? I will vote for the BJP because they also deserve a chance.
— Anu, Beautician
The popular perception is that most women in Bihar are pro-Nitish because of his targeted policies such as 33% reservation for women at the Panchayat level, vocational school schemes for Muslims and SC/STs and bicycles for school-going girls.
But a couple of hours at the Apsara Salon, and it’s evident that while the BJP may not be their first choice, the party is a default option for those who do not want Lalu and sons in government. The promise of a younger generation of RJD leaders does not seem to have cut ice with the female voters of Bihar who have turned out in large numbers to cast their ballot in the first two phases.
Day 5: Rain Gods, Not Nitish Abandoned Us
About 50 kilometres into Samastipur’s Rampur village, the political discourse leans heavily towards Nitish. In 2013, the Chief Minister brushed aside concerns raised by the anti-tobacco lobby and exempted khaini (tobacco) from taxation. But the tax relief is of little help when the existing crop lies on the brink of perishing due to poor rains.
We could grow vegetables, but that again leaves us at the mercy of the weather gods and tobacco is a cash crop and it gets us more money. Moreover, tobacco farming has been passed on from generation to generation It’s the only thing we know.
– Mohammad Irshad, Tobacco Farmer in Rampur
“If it’s not broken, why fix it?”, is the impression one is left with after the first phase of the election in Bihar. But BJP President Amit Shah is famous for being conservative while calling his party’s performance in each of the elections that he’s handed out a prediction for. On Monday morning, he claimed the BJP would win 22-24 of the 27 seats contested in the first phase of the elections.
And just like that, all bets are once again, off.
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