In a dark and dingy hovel in Islampur, in the heart of Muzaffarpur city, the economic capital of Bihar, Mohammad Naushad works at a furnace. He recalls crafting lathi bangles, inlaid with glass and pearls, for the wrists of Aishwarya Rai for her wedding to Abhishek Bachan in 2007. In the nearby locality, Mohammad Asif at Liberty Tailors recalls happier days, when people from as far away as Bhopal and Mumbai, and even beyond, would travel to Muzaffarpur to get their clothes tailored from his shop.
Naushad and Asif are just two of the thousands of workers in a town, once known for its bangles, cotton fabrics, leather works and skilled tailors, now struggling for survival. But that has not deterred them from vowing to prevent BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s march to Delhi. Why? They have been told he will make their life more miserable, by promoting corporates and machine-made bangles and fabrics.
Despite being all praise for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his support and development, the town’s Muslims, constituting 15.3% of the Lok Sabha seat, still largely vouch for the Congress-RJD combine. Their candidate, former union minister Akhilesh Singh, is turning out to be a formidable challenger to the BJP’s Ajay Nishad. Singh, who is on a strong wicket not because of his party but for his persona, belongs to the dominant upper, Bhumihar caste. The Janata Dal (U) candidate Vijindra Chowdhry is also in the race. The constituency goes to polls on May 7.
Professor Abuzar Kamaludin , author and the principal of a local college, agrees that Modi effect was being overplayed to consolidate Muslims in favour of Congress candidate Singh. With Chowdhry also in the race, it is a triangular contest, and the Muzaffarpur region resets its record of being the world’s ancient republic, where kings were be anointed as early as 6th Century BC.
Historian Professor Goji Nandan believes there are no parallels of such a system in world history, which was also stable and strong. In the heart of Vaishali region, in the outskirts of the city, is the birthplace of Lord Mahaveera, the founder of Jainism.
In Khadi Bhandar Chowk, rickshaw puller Ramakant Yadav is bemused not to find lantern (the RJD symbol) in the election campaign. “I vote for the lantern, but don’t find it in the campaign,” he says, little knowing that RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav has conceded this seat to the Congress.
In Aghoriya Bazar, a milkman, not revealing his name, says he would stamp on the lotus, as there was no lantern in the elections. Local RJD leader Sachinand Suma, says he, along with block Congress leaders were going door to door to clear this confusion. With no machinery of its own, the Congress is totally dependent on RJD cadres to carry the message that they are in alliance.
But there are many others who feel this election is not between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav. Outside the historic LS College, where India’s first President Dr Rajinder Prasad taught history, student Ranjit Kumar makes his choice clear. “It is a national election and the contest is between the Congress and the BJP. The former has ruled us over 10 years, we should now give a chance to the BJP,” he says. Other students chant “NaMo” in chorus and complain of the degradation of educational standards.
Professor Krishan Mohan, heading the department of economics in Muzaffarpur University points out that LS College, eulogised by none other Mahatma Gandhi himself, was short of 50% teachers. In the nearby RB Women’s College, the economics, physics and maths wings have no teachers. “Some 44 colleges under my university have 75% vacancies of teachers. In one college, there are just five teachers supervising 2,000 students,” he says, lamenting that such issues are whisked under the carpet during elections. “Public should choose candidates and vote on the basis of these issues rather caste and communal lines.”
In the 2009 elections, Capt Jainarain Prasad Nishad, then in the JD (U), had won this seat by riding the sentiment prevailing at the time in favour of Nitish Kumar. This time, his son, Ajay Nishad, having no record of development work, is hoping to get elected on a Modi wave. He got a BJP ticket on the personal intervention of Modi, to the vehement opposition of local BJP leaders, who wanted an upper caste Bhumihar candidate.