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

Banuchandar Nagarajan

Apr 15, 2024, 11:42 AM | Updated Apr 20, 2024, 07:42 PM IST


The roadway to Madhubani
The roadway to Madhubani
  • The Bihar state of mind teaches you to be happy with less.
  • Madhubani is in the Mithila region of Bihar. I entered Madhubani taking the rural roads from Sitamarhi, which was quite impressive. But, some villages were so poor that it reminded me of the desperate 1980s. A blind spot for travellers — good roads are not a proxy indicator for overall development, though they are necessary.

    Madhubani I walk into Padmashri awardee's home

    Madhubani's population comprises 80 per cent Hindus and 20 per cent Muslims. I decided to check out the artisan village, where the famous Madhubani paintings are made, in order to check whether the artisans get adequate support from the government. I went to Jitwarpur, a little village, 45 minutes north of Madhubani town.

    I ask a tailor on the wayside to point me to a facility where the paintings are produced. He takes me into a small residence, which happens to be the home of Padmashri Baua Devi. How about that for serendipity?

    Baua Devi is not at home. I meet her sons Vimlesh Jha and Amrish Jha. She stays on campus at the Mithila Chitrakala Sanasthan, a large residential training institution created nearby for teaching Madhubani paintings to students. It is a novel attempt as these traditions are usually passed on through the artisan families from one generation to the next.

    I realise that there are no large enterprises or mass-producing institutions for these paintings. They are made on a limited scale at the courtyards of houses. Apprenticeship is the only way to master the skills. I learned that there are 5-6 varieties of Madhubani paintings, each variety of which is made by a particular caste group. Most of it is done by the Brahmins and the Kayasthas, especially the ones with Rama and Sita in them. The community of painters extends to Nepal as well.

    Vimalesh and Amrish get chatting and show me the paintings. I tell them that I grew up in Madurai. Apparently, the TVS group had commissioned them for work and they stayed in Madurai for a couple of months to finish them.

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    I ask them about government support for the artists. They say that they had applied for a MUDRA loan to buy paper and clothes, but it was rejected. They complain that the Ministry of Textiles' branch office in Madhubani is highly bureaucratic.

    They know about the "One District One Product" programme and that Madhubani Paintings are a part of it, but Vimlesh says that the government has not done much in that regard. This has pretty much been the case I hear with ODOP all through my travels in UP and Bihar. 

    Let us talk politics of Madhubani. BJP's incumbent Ashok Kumar Yadav faces RJD's Ali Ashraf Fatmi in the upcoming polls. Ashok Kumar Yadav is the son of BJP legend Hukumdev Narayan Yadav, who was the Union Minister of Textiles in PM Modi's first term. He was known for his fiery speeches in the parliament. The BJP government had accorded him with the Padma Bhushan. His journey from the Pradhan of a gram sabha to the parliament — serving in various anti-congress regimes till his retirement in 2019 — is an inspirational story.

    Perhaps Ajay Singh Yadav will be helpful in luring Yadavs of Bihar into the BJP fold. Locals say that the educated Yadavs have started moving on from the RJD and voting based on economic aspirations. Also, Mohan Yadav being made the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has already created unease in the camps of SP in UP and RJD in Bihar. PM Modi has played the OBC card here a couple of times as well.

    BJP is hawk-like at exploiting weaknesses in opponents. The slow co-option of Yadavs will be a body blow to the corrupt family politics of the RJD and SP. That is a sub-story to watch for in 2024.

    Supaul pit-stop

    There was massive checking for alcohol. We were stopped three times during the course of the day and our luggage was checked. From Jhanjharpur, we crossed the massive bridge across the Kosi River into Forbesganj.

    Kosi, Bihar's sorrow, changes its course and has created massive havoc more than a few times. Disaster Management should form a vital cog in poverty reduction strategies in these parts.

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    JDU's Dileshwar Kamait will face RJD's Chandrahas Chaupal. Kamait handsomely defeated Congress' Ranjeet Ranjan in 2019. In our stop over at a petrol station, the assistant said that he was happy that the RJD candidate was standing this time and that he would vote for Lalu Prasad Yadav's party. He said that after darubandi, people go to Nepal to cosume alcohol.

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    I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice hotel in Forbesganj. On this trip, I realised that good hotels have come up even tier 3-4 towns.

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    The Araria arithmetic

    Seemanchal begins at Araria. It is visibly poor. In the graphic from the previous dispatch, you might have noticed that it is still the poorest district in Bihar, with a poverty headcount of 52 per cent (down from 65 per cent in 2015). 40 per cent of the population comprise Muslims, who trace their history to Yemen, from where they came to fight as mercenaries.

    BJP's Pradeep Kumar Singh is becoming a formidable political force here. Singh won the seat in 2009 and later in 2019. In 2014, when the JDU-BJP Alliance collapsed (Nitish Kumar was nurturing PM ambitions then) RJD's Taslimuddin, arguably the tallest leader of RJD after Lalu Yadav, sneaked in with a win.

    In 2019, Pradeep Singh trounced Sarfaraz Alam, the late Taslimuddin's elder son. He faces Shahnawaz Alam, Taslimuddin's younger son in 2024. Shahnawaz was one of the MLAs that shifted from AIMIM to RJD in 2022. He was made the cabinet minister in charge of Disaster Management. Owaisi blames Alam for the breakup of AMIM in Bihar.

    Araria is exhibit A for the synergies of the BJP-JDU-LJP combine that trumps the Muslim-Yadav combination. Pradeep Singh belongs to the EBC community which forms 30 per cent of the population.

    Kishanganj - Defeat looms for Congress

    India is always under construction, both literally and metaphorically. The highway between Araria and Kishanganj is being expanded. We cross the huge Mahananda river into Kishanganj.

    The Hindu-Muslim ratio is approximately 30-70, making Kishanganj a rarity in India. It has reduced its poverty headcount, currently standing at 45 per cent, compared to 65 per cent in 2015. It usually votes for the Congress. In 2019, it was the only constituency in Bihar where the Congress managed to win, albeit with one of the lowest margins of victory, at 34000 votes.

    INDI Alliance has re-nominated Mohammad Javed. He is a medical doctor. Mujahid Alam from JDU (an ex-MLA) and Akhtarul Iman, the AMIM state president (current MLA) will be facing him. Iman was the only MLA, out of the four, that did not cross over from AIMIM to RJD in 2022.

    I chat with Mohammed Arman, a local youth. He is the second Arman I am meeting on the trip, after the flute manufacturer of Pilibhit. He says that doctor sahab (the Congress MP) will definitely lose this time as he is an absentee MP. People are looking favourably at JDU and AIMIM. He gives a lecture on how triple-Talaq and hijab are not about religious extremism. I listen patiently.

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    Another youngster, Chanchal Kumar, echoed the sentiments later. He said the contest is between JDU and AIMIM. He said there are no communal riots in Kishanganj, but there is an undercurrent of animosity between the two communities. He says that even for small issues, members of communities gang up to support their co-religionists.

    Endnotes

    There has been too much negativity peddled about Bihar and the way the people go about their lives. But, I feel that we should look at the other side of the coin as well — the one that practices an unruffled approach to life.

    It's not productive or efficient for sure. But, the Bihar state of mind teaches you to be happy with less; be patient and adjust; and be large-hearted and generous to strangers.

    Perhaps, Biharis invented "quiet quitting," but they were too lazy to even take credit for it. With a bit of packaging, their languid approach might appeal to the modern urban youth, who want to Netflix and chill. Before nonchalance takes over my personality, I cross over to Bengal's Uttar Dinajpur and order pizza online for pickup at Siliguri.

    West Bengal beckons! 

    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'


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

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