Hridayapath, Dispatch #11: Bihar Redux — Of Bengali Woes And Begusarai's Bumihars

Banuchandar Nagarajan

Apr 24, 2024, 03:30 PM | Updated Apr 28, 2024, 08:50 PM IST

The Begusarai railway station in Bihar.
The Begusarai railway station in Bihar.
  • "Bengal me bura haal hai," laments a Bengali working in Bihar.
  • "Sir, have you heard of Bengalis seeking work in Bihar? It is the reality now. Bengal has become worse than Bihar," laments Monu Debabrata, who I met at a stopover at Kishanganj.

    He is from Hooghly near Kolkata. He has lived in Pune for more than 15 years and speaks with a distinct "Marathi wala Hindi". He is assertive and laughs when I say that he sounds like a "Mumbai ka don" from Bollywood movies.

    "Things are very bad in Bengal. Not only are there no job opportunities, but the general violence has become very disturbing. Even for a small panchayat election, there are at least 50 people that are injured or killed. In Maharashtra, people do not even know if there is a panchayat election on the day. You need to have connections to get anything done in Bengal. There is no level-playing field because of corruption and politics. Didi's gangs are everywhere and they act like rajas," Debabrata declares with anger laced with desperation.

    He still laments that the Tata Nano car project did not happen in Bengal. He said that it could have had ripple effects on the industrialisation of the state.

    "The small-minded politicians don't care about development, sir."

    This Bengali is jealous of Uttar Pradesh. (I thought such jealousies were the preserve of Biharis these days). He says after "Yogi ne gundon ko theek kara" it has gone to a different league all together and one can see in the news on all kinds of industries are coming up there."

    He laments that even educated Bengalis have left Bengal. There are a lot of them, even in Pune. They have shot themselves in the foot by supporting Communist Party of India-Marxist and Trinamool Congress (TMC).

    Debabrata says that the TMC workers are spreading rumours that if they do not vote for Didi (Mamata Banerjee), the benefits that people receive through cash transfers, such as the "Lakshmi Bhandar" and the old-age schemes, will stop.

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    He says that there are "ghuspaithiyon" that are deliberately allowed to enter and settle in Bengal and they would vote en masse for the TMC. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will find it very difficult to win because the "30 per cent vote is locked-in for the TMC".

    He declares that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi will find it difficult to break the politics of Bengal. He feels that people from TMC crossing over to the BJP makes people feel that they are the same. He says he doesn't know much about the politics of Kishanganj as he has just come here.

    As we drive through Purnea, Katihar, Bhagalpur, Khagaria to Begusarai, my driver quips that there is no scenery in the route. I explain the "Aspirational Districts" programme to him. All of the above (except Bhagalpur) are in the programme. He sighs!

    I ruminate on the role that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is already playing in Indian politics. Chief ministers of all states now have an Adityanath benchmark to contend with. He seems like a 'regulator' and a 'messiah' thrown into one.

    Begusarai's Bumihars

    Roads built under Bharatmala continue to impress. We pass through Bhagalpur. Bhagalpur district is in the sangam of Gandak, Kosi and of course the Ganga. The Ganga flows from south to north near the city — Uttarvahini Ganga — like in Haridwar and Kashi.

    Bhagalpur also falls in the 'National Waterway #1'. It is an ancient centre of culture and was home to the great Vikramashila University. It is being rebuilt now as a Central University from the ruins. Readers might also want to look up on the Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and the ugly appeasement politics that followed.

    Temperature hovers close to 40 degrees celsius. I stop in the middle of the Begusarai town for nariyal pani. The sitting Member of Parliament (MP) is the khattar Hindu, Union Minister Giriraj Singh. A huge bridge construction is happening on the main highway.

    The conversation with the street-vendor is honest and perplexing at the same time. I am in Bihar and I am confident to start with political topics leaving aside the usual build-up.

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    Lallan says he will vote for ‘Lalu Yadav’ (Nobody has told me that they will vote for Tejashwi Yadav). I ask him whether he has not benefited from any of Prime Minister Modi's schemes. He says that he has got electricity connection through the Saubhagya programme. The Poshan Abhiyan has ensured that kids gets nutrition (take-home-rations or mid-day meals).

    He has availed the Svanidhi programme for a small loan. He is happy with the ration and bijli. He points to the flyover under construction and says that Giriraj Singh has taken care of his constituency. I get a bit confused and shrug my shoulders with "aur kya chahiye aapko"?

    He is very candid in saying Begusarai is a Bhumihar constituency and hence Giriraj Singh will win again. He added that Prime Minister Modi is doing a good job and he has no narazgi against him. But he is firm in casting his vote based on caste. He said it in a cool and matter-of-fact way.

    I am frustrated with the man's choice, but it is his own to make. I sense that his choice is a protest vote based on past injustices. The Bhumihar's relations with the other communities will take time to heal. In 2018, after the promulgation of the SC-ST Atrocities Act, there was violence in the very chowk where I was standing in.

    Elections allow for the common man to dispense justice too. We can go with "how caste is so entrenched" theory that holds on to the past. But then, are our choices not based on the past at all? Let us get off that high-horse.

    I ask for another tender coconut.

    Kaun Jaat Ho?

    We stop for lunch somewhere in the border between Samastipur and Begusarai. I make a few useless purchases to get the conversation going with the shopkeeper. He tries to assess my caste by asking my "poora naam".

    At least he did not stoop down to the level of former NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar and ask, "kaun jaat ho?". Having been part of the game a few times in Delhi, I parry the question and refuse to divulge.

    Naval Kumar Singh says that a lot of work has been done in Begusarai. Prime Minister Modi had come here few weeks before to inaugurate a petrochemical complex and fertiliser plant at Barauni. There is huge road being built across the city and a new bridge across the Ganga.

    Naval says it is going to be easy win for Giriraj Singh. Begusarai is a Bhumihar dominated constituency with around one-third of the population belonging to the community. There are sizeable chunks of Kurmis and Pasis. The social engineering of BJP-Janata Dal (United)-Lok Janshakti Party will work.

    He adds that people here are unhappy with the caste survey, which is based on false estimation. But it is not in the people's mindspace anymore. Nitish Kumar has run his course. He won’t get another chance in the assembly elections. He said the paltu ram business has given a bad name to Bihar. 

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    He says they are looking favourably at Samrat Choudhary as the next chief minister. On the benefits he has availed from the government, he said that he got Mudra loan after greasing the palms of the bank officer. (This too has been a frequent complaint. But can retail corruption be eliminated?)

    He feels that people have to rise above jativad and think about development (He said that without a hint of hypocrisy in his face).

    He feels that many educated Yadavs have already moved on from the Rashtriya Janata Dal. Educated Muslims too are beginning to get out of old paradigms.

    I ask him if it is going to be a clean sweep for the National Democratic Alliance this time in Bihar, he said that there might be a few constituencies that might see close contests. But the leher is for Modi.

    This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on themes and topics that are often overlooked or looked down. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as ₹2999. Click here for more details.

    Read the previous articles in this series:

    Hridayapath, Dispatch 1: What Moradabad, Pilibhit, And Rampur Think About Modi Sarkar And 2024 Election

    Hridayapath, Dispatch 2: Discussing National And Local Issues In This Slice Of Northern Uttar Pradesh

    Hridayapath, Dispatch 3: The Uttar Pradesh Capstone — Election Trail Chronicles From Ghaziabad To Kushinagar

    Hridayapath, Dispatch 4 — 'Phirse Modi Ho, Bihar Me Bahar Ho'

    Hridayapath, Dispatch 5: Too Much Negativity Peddled About Bihar — Notes From Mithila And Seemanchal

    Hridayapath, Dispatch 6: North Bengal — A BJP Fortress In The Making

    Hridayapath, Dispatch 7: Meghalaya And Nagaland Voters Give A Big Thumbs Up To Central Government Schemes

    Hridayapath, Dispatch 8: On Politics, Progress, And Poetry From Assam

    Hridayapath, Dispatch #9: Culture, Infrastructure And Cash Transfers Power Assam, As Progress Reaches Nooks And Corners Of State

    Hridayapath, Dispatch #10: Saffronisation Of Assam Has Made The "Psychological Reintegration" Complete

    Banuchandar is a political and public policy advisor. He posts at @Banu4Bharat.

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