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In Bihar, caste is the deciding factor

April 17, 2009 11:54 IST
A longtime Bihar native gives his take on Laloo Yadav, Nitish Kumar and the politics of caste:

On Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar: Nitish Kumar's biggest contribution to Bihar has been the confidence he has given the people of the state. No other chief minister has generated as much confidence. He has an honest image and is working towards development.

Before he came to power, you couldn't see people on the roads of Patna after 8 pm, now families can be seen going to restaurants at 10. That is a good change.

On the basis of his performance and the hope that he has instilled, the NDA can hope for a better performance in Bihar. (Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United is part of the the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance.)

On Laloo Yadav as an MP: Laloo hardly ever visits his constituency. Even if he was here, as the railway minister, he came by train and met people at the platform itself. He is not accessible neither does he have any representatives here on his behalf who can be approached.

He is a high profile MP but his constituency woefully lacks in development. There is no industry, roads are in poor shape, power is almost non-existent and Chhapra -- the district headquarters -- does not even have a bus stand! The state roadways buses are parked on the main road.

Laloo announced the setting up of a factory to manufacture wheels for railway wagons. Construction has begun, but who knows how long will it be before wheels actually start rolling out of the factory.

He also announced a diesel engine project in Marhowrah, but that too is in the pipeline.

With him becoming railway minister, there was hope that work on the railway bridge across the Ganga would begin. The inauguration of this project was done by (H D) Deve Gowda during his prime ministership but the bridge still remains far from reality.

A rail bridge across the Ganga would reduce travel time considerably to the capital Patna. Especially in view of the inadequate medical facilities in Saran. There is no good cardiologist and many times people have lost their lives en route to Patna for want of medical attention.

Power is the biggest crisis. For years Chhapra, Laloo's constituency, has been getting 10 mw of power (currently the town gets 5, 6 hours of power supply every 24 hours). There was great hope from the Kati power station, but it was opened and has shut down, and no difference was made to the lives of people.

The sad thing is people have become used to not having power and have accepted it as a part of their lives.

On the stranglehold of caste: The problem is that a MP here has no accountability because he knows that the caste equation will take him through. The people here may complain about the lack of development and neglect but when it comes to casting their vote, they will vote on the basis of caste. That ultimately is the deciding factor.

The backward castes have solidly united behind Laloo because he has given them a voice and he is high profile. No other leader can match him in the state.

Laloo won for the first time in 1977 on the anti-Indira wave, in 1989 he won on the anti-Rajiv sentiment, so in a way 2004 was his first real election. The 2004 election in Chhapra was declared null and void in all polling booths in the constituency because of large scale violence and booth capturing. A repoll was conducted by the Election Commission under heightened security and paramilitary forces. Laloo won the election.

The Muslim-Yadav factor helped him win but this year, there is a Muslim candidate on the BSP ticket, who will cut into Laloo's vote share. The Muslims will play a crucial role in this election.

It is unfortunate that even the youngsters of Bihar have not been able to rise above the parochialism of caste. From ticket distribution to appointments to government and university posts are decided on the basis of caste.

On the stirrings in the Congress: Old Congressmen have returned to the fold after the party split with the RJD. There was Diwali in Patna to celebrate this. At least the Congress has a faint glimmer of hope of revival in the state.

As told to Archana Masih.
Image: Having Laloo Prasad Yadav as the MP has made little difference to development in Chhapra. Photograph: Seema Pant