NEW DELHI: The 2015 Bihar elections have concluded with a decisive victory for the Mahagathbandhan, with Nitish Kumar set to serve a third term as Chief Minister. From the results, it is clear that the elections were won on the plank of ‘vikas’ (development) and ‘shanti’ (peace), as the BJP’s divisive rhetoric that attempted to polarise the vote on religious lines failed to translate on the ground. In the first phase of the elections, the Citizen team traveled from Patna through Vaishali, Samastipur, Kalyanpur, Muzaffarpur, Jehanabad and Gaya, speaking to the common voter about the upcoming polls.
Development, it was clear, had an impact on the ground, with almost every person the team encountered praising Nitish Kumar for his government’s work on roads, electricity and schools. Even those who admitted to wanting a change in government commended the Chief Minister on his developmental work and foresight.
Shanti or peace was another common theme, with the people reiterating that communal harmony is part of the very fabric of Bihari society. The controversy on the beef issue, that has dominated headlines and conversations in Patna and New Delhi, had very little bearing on the ground. As one voter said, “We live together; that will never change and politics that tries to make it change will never work.”
Here’s a look at what mattered to the voter in Bihar, in their own words.
Phulwari Sharif in the district of Patna is along a dusty yet solid road. The group pictured above gathered quickly. “Vikas” they echoed, in response to a range of questions on the upcoming polls. “In Nitish Kumar’s tenure we have seen lots of development. Many roads have come up, “ says Jitendar Rajak (pictured below).
(Jitendar Rajak, Puhlwari Sharif).
“This is why we will vote Nitish Kumar back to the post of CM” the crowd concurs. “What are you voting for?” we ask again before we leave.” Vikas” answers a man named Mohammad. “And shanti” (peace) he quietly adds as the crowd disperses as quickly as it had gathered.
(Gajandhar Shah, Paswan Chowk).
“The grand alliance will win,” chorus a group of men at a sweet shop in Paswan Chowk. “Nitish Kumar has done a lot for development,” elaborates Kumar, the man behind the counter. “Nitish is a good man,” he adds. “That, and the BJP has lied a lot,” chimes in Gajadhar Shah. “They told us to open a bank account and that money would be deposited. We sold our goats to do so. Not a penny has come in.”
We move on. A man follows us. “Let me tell you one thing,” says Pawan Singh Rathore, a mass communication student. “Many people here will tell you they’re voting for BJP, but when it actually comes down to it, Nitish Kumar will form the government. Remember I said so.”
We stop at a small tea stall. A group of men sitting there tell us that they think the BJP “hawa” is exaggerated. The sentiment is the same. Nitish Kumar has done a lot for the development of Bihar, they tell us. “I don’t like the way Narendra Modi speaks,” says Binder Rai. “Words like shaitan; this is no way to speak.” “Has the beef controversy had any bearing?” we ask. No, they shake their heads. “Nitish Kumar will win,” concludes Parichand Rai, their last names and dress indicating that they are from the Yadav community.
(Binder Rai and Parichand Rai, Hajipur).
At a railway crossing, that we’re told is known as Sehranjan, the mood is infectious. “Nitish Kumar will win,” a crowd chants in unison. “He is the number one CM of India,” they say. The crowd swells, and everyone is talking at once. “Nitish Kumar has given food, clothes, electricity, roads. He has given us cycles and schools. A lot has changed in Bihar and we want only him,” says a man who towers over the others. “There will be a tsunami in Bihar for Nitish Kumar,” chimes in Debendra Prasad Rajat.
(Shanti Devi selling fruit at Sehranjan crossing).
We make our way to Kalyanpur. We stop on the way and a crowd quickly gathers. Musrigarhari is where we are, we’re told. “We have seen a lot of development,” the crowd tells us. “PM Modi had come to Samastipur yesterday,” Pramod Kumar Sahni tells us. “He asked at a rally rhetorically: ‘Bijli milli?’ The crowd chorused ‘milli!’” “I don’t like how the PM keeps referring to Bihar as ‘Jungle Raj’” says another man.
As we continue forward, we see a small Dalit basti on the side of the road. One major contention this Lok Sabha poll has been the Dalit vote — which way is it going to go? We stop at a tea stall near the basti.
Virendar Sahni, a customer tell us that things have improved dramatically in Nitish Kumar’s time. “We have doctors. We have medicines. We have cycles. We have electricity,” he says, and identifies himself from a Dalit caste. Poonam Devi, the lady running the tea stall, says that her stall exists because a road has come up near the basti. “My children go to school for free,” she adds. “Nitish Kumar is a good CM, we want him re-elected,” the customers at the stall all agree.
(A tea stall in Samastipur).
The mixed stances are evident at our final stop in Kalyanpur, a tea stall where a large number of people have gathered. The first group of men begin with praising Nitish Kumar. “The BJP influence is all hawa” says one of the men. “This is not the Lok Sabha polls, it’s the Bihar polls. The BJP does not even have a Bihari face; does not even have a CM candidate,” says Ram Dev (pictured below).
(A chai shop in Kalyanpur).
The conversation is politically heavy. The caste break up, the campaign rhetoric, the real changes on the ground. A group of men loudy interject. “Our lives are miserable,” they scream. “There is no money, no work.” A heated argument ensues. We watch the two sides exchange their thoughts on whether change can come from Nitish Kumar’s leadership of from a change in government. In the end, a man who had been silent all along commands everyone’s attention. “Tell me one thing,” he asks the crowd. “Have roads been built? Has electricity improved? Have you seen development?” “Yes,” the whole crowd agrees. “Then that’s all that matters,” the man says, and the crowd disperses.
Our first stop in Jehanabad is a small village along the main road.
(A village in Jehanabad).
The crowd says what we have gotten accustomed to hearing. “There has been a lot of development,” says a man in a faded orange vest. “There is electricity. There are roads. There are schools,” he says. “Bihar has changed,” the crowd adds. “In this area, you couldn’t step out after 5 PM. Now you can move along freely. This has been Nitish Kumar’s doing.”
As we move along Jehanabad, we see an outpour of support for Nitish Kumar. “This is a one way fight,” says a man at a cement shop in Jehanabad. “The RJD candidate will win.”
We stop at a market place where a group of workers are going about their day. “Nitish Kumar has changed Jehanabad,” says Mohammad Suhail Khan. “He has done a lot for development,” echoes a man who identifies his last name as Chaudhary. “Jehanabad has become safe in the last ten years and this is Nitish Kumar’s doing.” “The politics of hate will not work in Jehanabad,” says Chaudhary. “No matter what happens in the rest of the world or even in Bihar, in Jehanabad Hindus and Muslims and people of all castes will live together in peace.”
A few kilometers down the road, the story is the same. Nitish has done a lot for development, everyone agrees. We realise that we are hearing the same argument everywhere we go; an argument that is founded on real change in Bihar. There is an immense outpour of support for Nitish Kumar, with even those who say they want a BJP government praising Kumar’s leadership.
We move along toward Gaya, stopping at a dalit basti on the way. Thinking we are from the government, a group of women tell us how miserable life is. “Come see our houses if you want to see how poorly we live,” they say. We empathise and ask the crowd whether they want a change in government. No one gives us an answer. At that moment, a smartly dressed man who is passing by loudly interjects, “Anyone who doesn’t vote for Nitish Kumar is a traitor.” No one disagrees.