Ground Reports

Chirag Paswan's Fight For His Father's Political Legacy In This Sweet 'Banana Republic' - Ground Report From Hajipur

Abhishek Kumar

May 17, 2024, 10:40 PM | Updated May 18, 2024, 09:55 AM IST

Chirag Paswan (left) and Shiv Chandra Ram.
Chirag Paswan (left) and Shiv Chandra Ram.
  • A potential loss would hurt Chirag more than it would the RJD's Shiv Chandra Ram.
  • Bihar’s young leader Chirag Paswan, also known as ‘Modi’s Hanuman’ is offering more than visual politik. With his ‘Bihar first Bihari first’ vision, he wishes to shed the image of Bihar being a backward state.

    As they say, charity begins at home. For Paswan, it means that in the circumstance he is elected, the man has to begin by fulfilling the hopes of the people of Hajipur, his own constituency. The constituency is termed as the karmabhoomi of Ram Vilas Paswan, his father.

    Inside one of the election offices of JLP(RV)
    Inside one of the election offices of JLP(RV)

    Hajipur, headquarter and largest city of Vaishali district is a reserved Lok sabha seat. Pashupati Kumar Paras, brother of Ram Vilas Paswan and Chirag’s uncle is the incumbent member of Parliament from this seat.

    Six assembly constituencies namely, Hajipur, Lalganj, Raja Pakar, Mahua, Raghopur and Manhar fall under this Lok Sabha constituency.

    For the major part of 2000s, the Hajipur assembly constituency remained the most talked about due to electing former Bihar Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief and minister of state for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai.

    In the post 2020 era, Raghopur has acquired that space since Tejashwi Yadav, former deputy chief minister, represents the constituency.

    RJD election office in Bidupur
    RJD election office in Bidupur

    There was a time when Hajipur was well and truly on the path of development, even getting the tag of 'electronic city' much before Bengaluru did. Then happened Lalu Raj, or Jungle Raj and Hajipur could only become the pale shadow of its true potential.

    “Some mistakes occurred due to which Hajipur couldn’t fully develop” accepted a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) worker, without divulging into details of the mishap.

    Despite that, Hajipur, also termed as satellite city of Bihar’s capital Patna, is the second most developing city of Bihar.

    It has a thriving industrial area, a rarity in Bihar. The industrial area, spread over more than 150 acres of dedicated land, houses companies like Pepsico, Britannia, HUL, Godrej, Anmol, Sudha, Wayss Ice Cream, Bansal, Treat and Avon Cycle among others.

    Trucks ready to transport finished products from industrial area
    Trucks ready to transport finished products from industrial area

    To facilitate export of products, the city houses Export Promotion Industrial Park (EPIPA), developed by the commerce ministry of Bihar and maintained by Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority—(BIADA).

    Spread over 94 acres, EPIPA hosts institutions like the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology and National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research. Hajipur also has a dedicated institute for hotel management.

    Benefits of such infrastructure reach beyond their immediate locality.

    Around the industrial area, one can easily see the burst of local job generating businesses like eateries, restaurants and even brick chimneys. Local people who have traditionally chosen to rely on doing their own jobs like farming have also started to flock here.

    Chimney near industrial area
    Chimney near industrial area

    Even workers working in banana fields are now moving towards industrial areas. The trend has caught momentum, especially during the last five to seven years.

    There are reasons behind it. Hajipur, more known for its bananas than its modern industrial infrastructure, is slowly but certainly losing its banana-based identity cultivated over decades.

    Hajipur’s bananas have unique characteristics.

    They are small in size - four to five centimeters, and sweet - the reason behind the name chiniya (sugary).

    It is this sweet taste which differentiates Hajipur bananas from most other bananas in the country. Malbhog, muthiya and alpan are other banana varieties grown in Hajipur.

    Varieties of banana
    Varieties of banana

    Inside Hajipur, Bidupur block is renowned for banana production.

    Visiting through the lanes and inner village roads, this writer was astonished to see the level at which people are dedicated to banana cultivation. It is as if it is their favourite day job, which they like to do even in their free time.

    Banana plantations on both sides of road
    Banana plantations on both sides of road

    No matter whether it's a small plot of land near a road, a big plot of land dedicated for farming or some leftover land behind a constructed house, bananas are everywhere.

    Using spare area for banana plantation
    Using spare area for banana plantation

    We sat down and interacted with a farmer having four decades of experience in banana cultivation, for more than an hour.

    Devender Singh from Kanchanpur village began farming in his 20s. The fruit helped his family attain financial stability due to which many of his family members were able to study outside and get stable jobs.

    Singh says that for the major part of his four decades long journey, he relied on water the plants at appropriate times to grow the fruits.

    Recalling old days, he said that in those times bananas were only used for two purposes - eating and during pooja. The consumption increased exponentially during Navratri and Chhath Pooja.

    “Even when the bananas had not ripened before the pooja, they used to take raw banana, pack them under an utensil made of mud. After packing, a small hole was made with some straw and a bit of fire, then it was buried under land for a few days and the ripe banana was ready” Singh explained.

    When asked how they do it now, Singh added, “now they just use carbide and that’s it. It does get results, but you can’t get that quality”. He feels that modernisation has killed the essence of it all.

    Questioning his rationale for the conclusion, Swarajya found that Singh and most other farmers like him have found it tough to adjust quickly to the changing realities of farming and the pressures it has caused on banana cultivation.

    They feel that use of fertilisers for production of bananas along with unpredictable weather has made it tougher for banana farmers to get profit. The decline in water table could also be the reason behind it.

    Singh explained how he has been losing money for the last half decade.

    Based on multiple expenditures, banana cultivation is profitable for him only when his own price realisation is more than Rs 2.5 per banana. For buying the fruit, sellers from the nearest bazar samiti send their agents with vehicles like autos, e-rickshaws and trucks in some cases. The local unit used for buying bananas is ghoud. A ghoud generally contains 70-120 bananas. The lower limit sometimes goes to 50 while upper can tick as high as 200 in rare cases.

    Taking average size to be 100 bananas per ghoud, farmers get anywhere between Rs 150 to Rs 350 per ghoud from the agents. In recent years, the price bracket close to Rs 150 is more prominent. More often than not, the price realised by farmers is less than Rs 2.5 per piece.

    Swarajya went to the market to understand why dealers offer so less. Turns out that a dozen of local Hajipur bananas cost between Rs 20-Rs 30 in the local market. In rare cases - Chhath Puja or some special days, the price ticks Rs 40 bracket. So, on an average, a local seller is selling it for Rs 2 per piece.

    Local sellers get it mainly from bazar samiti dealers, which in turn pick bananas directly from the farm. If the third and final component of the supply chain (involving transportation charges) is selling bananas at Rs 2 per piece, it is not pragmatic for them to offer farmers Rs 2.5 per piece for their produce.

    But it was hard to decipher why those renowned bananas are sold for so little in the local market.

    We went to the bazar samiti, the mediator in the supply chain to find out the cause. Apparently, these bananas are losing out on competition from their Chennai, Karnataka, West Bengal and Assam counterparts. Despite the bananas from other parts of India not being as sweet in smell and taste, they are sold for Rs 50-Rs 60 per dozen in local markets.

    Ajay Kumar, a trader in bazar samiti said that clever advertising is not the reason behind it. Hajipurians know that their banana is much better than imported ones, despite that they don’t buy it.

    This paradox can only be explained by a phenomenon called ‘victims of standard’. The bananas coming from outside the state are better looking and have better finished packaging, increasing the visual aspect of attraction.

    Due to evolving consumer preferences that increasingly prioritise aesthetics over the substantive value offered by products, Hajipur bananas are experiencing a decline in market share.

    Made in Chennai
    Made in Chennai
    Made in Hajipur
    Made in Hajipur

    When asked whether he was satisfied with the profit from 'imported' bananas, Ajay Kumar said that it is uneven in nature.

    A truck coming from Chennai costs him Rs 3.65 lakh (Rs 1.45 lakhs as transportation fare). The total sale varies between Rs 2.25 lakhs to Rs 5 lakhs, depending on demand.

    Despite such fluctuations, he is satisfied with the maintenance of cash flow, which is tough to achieve while selling only locally made bananas.

    Out of his own love of Hajipur bananas, Ajay sells them too. However, he hopes that in future there will be processing plants for products like pancakes, chips so that farmers can earn more.

    This writer asked if the plants are located closer to farmers, won’t they eat into his profits, Ajay replied, “It won’t be much problem for us. Anyway majority of our earnings depend on imported ones, so be it”.

    Even with loss, farmers continue their love affair with banana cultivation. There are reasons behind it - they take less human effort and do not require engaging farm labourers for long duration. “They just leave their crops. If the fruits come out, they sell, if it does not, they just leave it without care. And if a thunderstorm uproots the trees, these farmers quickly grow other crops there” said Shishupal, a student and someone privy to multiple banana farms.

    Virendra Singh, a local banana farmer and media professional, feels that Minimum Support Price (MSP) type solution could benefit farmers. But then the question is if people are not buying local bananas for such a low price, the risk of changed market dynamics (MSP) leading to rise in prices and ultimately pulling demand down further in the long term is a realistic possibility.

    Raj Kishore Singh, senior RJD leader and former personal assistant to Rabri Devi feels that farmers now need to diversify their portfolios, both farm ones and non-farm ones. “Sticking to one crop and doing it over and over again, expecting a better result is not a pragmatic solution to any problem. They should try different crops and also look towards industrial area for better income opportunity” said Singh.

    Singh who is currently canvassing for RJD candidate Shiv Chandra Ram holds somewhat mixed sentiments about the course of politics in Bihar. On one hand he is happy that the dirty diatribe in Bihar’s political landscape is declining while on the other hand his hopes for better infrastructure facilities are fading day-by-day.

    “When Paswan (Ram Vilas) Ji was here, he brought in some tremendous change - industrial area, broad roads, companies, zonal office of Railways to name a few. However, the pace of change we expected has not been seen. More schools, hospitals and other such facilities are needed today, ” said Singh.

    Singh had helped senior Paswan during his time as well - Paswan fought the majority of his eight successful elections aligning towards the socialist (claimed) side of the political spectrum. “It is only in 2014 that he changed sides, even then only because of his family pressure." said Singh.

    Singh was hinting towards Chirag Paswan’s persuasion of his father to join Narendra Modi’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) camp in 2014.

    For the 2024 general election (GE), people have to choose between Chirag Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) (LJP(RV)) and Shiv Chandra Ram of RJD. While with Paswan, his father’s legacy and an aura of a young and dynamic leader is there, for Ram, him being local is a crucial factor.

    Ram has represented the Raja Pakar assembly constituency in the past.

    RJD selected him from its cadre base, which is why he is a socially recognizable figure. His stint as Art, Culture and Sports Minister of the state is also something which locals are proud of. Besides that, he belongs to the Chamar community, another powerful Dalit community in the constituency.

    Ram Vilas Paswan, a Dalit, lost only two times from Hajipur and in both cases, the rival candidates belonged to the Chamar or the Ravidas Community.

    On the other hand, Chirag Paswan lacks this personalised approach. Even his own workers accept this weakness. “Only interaction Bhaiya (Chirag Paswan) has with people of Hajipur is when he visits the constituency” said an LJP worker on the condition of anonymity.

    On the other hand, even RJD workers seem to agree that even in 2024, four years after his death, Ram Vilas Paswan is a factor here.

    Raj Kishore Singh said that in 2019, Pashupati Kumar Paras won only because of Ram Vilas Paswan. “No one knew him there and in five years nothing has changed as he did not visit even once” added Singh.

    In the Raja Pakar assembly segment, Jha ji, an old man in 60s, said that even if Chirag Paswan doesn’t do anything for next 10 years, he can enjoy the harvest of his father’s labour. Jha ji belongs to a 'forward' caste, which is why we asked him about the curious case of him supporting a Dalit candidate.

    Pointing towards a person he was sharing a plate of jalebi with, Jha ji said, “he is also a Paswan. We have our fights, but untouchability is not something people of Hajipur have practised. Ram Vilas ji was a leader par excellence. Even Yadavs voted for him and now they will vote for Chirag Paswan, no matter how many jobs Tejashwi Yadav promises to give”. “Those who have seen jungle Raj will never vote for anyone representing RJD” added Jha ji.

    Sanjay Singh, from the Yadav community said that, “We are Yadavs, but we have voted for development. Our caste is tainted for voting in favour of one leader, but things are changing rapidly. Chirag holds promise and I will vote for him”

    Ajay Kumar, a trader in bazar samiti also agreed with it. On asking whether there is anything which he does not like in Chirag, Kumar said, “He needs to be mature in interacting with people of the constituency. For example, when old men are standing for him, he should not wave hands, rather than join hands in pranam mudra to show humility”.

    Raj Kishore Singh also holds this perception. On the public interaction front, he holds Tejashwi in higher regard. “Tejashwi, despite being younger, is continuously learning from his father, while Chirag’s campaign is managed by a corporate type set up. It will take time for him” said Singh, an experienced campaigner.

    Hajipur is one seat where Tejashwi Yadav is using everything in his capacity to canvass votes for his candidate, Shiv Chandra Ram. For Paswan, it is more about continuing his father's legacy and honour the commitment he has made to PM Modi in personal and political capacity.

    PM Modi has done a special rally for him, asking people to vote for Chirag in record numbers.

    A loss would hurt Chirag more than it would Shiv Chandra Ram. In the event of a defeat, Chirag may lose his party's confidence. He is already under scanner for his controversial ticket distributions.

    Watching multiple interviews of Chirag Paswan, it is easy to decipher that he has a plan. If he is elected, the first test of his plans’ practical feasibility will be in Hajipur, his own constituency. 

    Abhishek is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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