Bihar polls: In ancient Bhojpur, wounds of the past will determine voting behaviour

Arrah (Bhojpur): Division among caste and communal lines is sharp in ancient Bhojpur, the land known for the Ranvir Sena, the upper caste landlord militia, which spread terror among lower castes in the 1990s. Experiences of the past still dictate political behaviour in the seven assembly constituencies in the region.

The constituencies – Arrah, Sandesh, Barhara, Tarari, Agiaon, Shahpur and Jagdishpur – are going to polls in the third phase on 28 October. The Rajputs, Bhumihars and other upper castes are aligned strongly in favour of the BJP-led NDA while Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits show a strong tilt towards the JD(U)-Congress-RJD Mahagathbandhan.

 Bihar polls: In ancient Bhojpur, wounds of the past will determine voting behaviour

Representational image. PTI

Laluji aur Nitishji ne humlogon ko bolne aur kursi par baithne ka adhikar diya (Lalu and Nitish gave us the right to sit on chairs and the right to speak),” the latter maintain justifying their support to the Grand Alliance.

Unperturbed at the deteriorating infrastructure and poor development of his area, Shesh Nath Singh, a businessman in Arrah, said he would still vote for the sitting MLA Amrendra Pratap Singh. “We cannot look for another option because our loyalty is towards the BJP. We know that our MLA has not even visited the area ever since he won the elections from here, forget about developmental work, but we vote for him because he belongs to our community. We are sure that if somebody tries to challenge us, he will always stand with us,” he told Firstpost.

A listener, Tripurari Thakur, intervened and said voting for a Muslim candidate was a strict no no. “We can never vote for a Muslim candidate. Had there been a non-Muslim candidate belonging to our caste fielded by Mahagathbandhan, we would have thought for a second about voting for him. The performance of the BJP candidate is poor,” he added.

Mohammad Nawaz Alam alias Mohammad Anwar of the RJD is locked in a tough contest with the BJP’s four-term legislator. Prominent among others in the fray include Sidharth Rai (a Bhumihar by caste) from Samajwadi Party and Qyamuddin Ansari of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation-supported Indian People’s Front (IPF).

Arrah is considered to be a Rajput-dominated seat though the community accounts for only 12 percent of the electorate. However, combining with Bhumihars, Brahmins, Jains and other upper castes, who together make about 14 percent, the community constitutes a strong force. The Yadavs constitute 15 percent of the population and the Muslims about 10 percent. Kurmi, Koeris, Paswan and other extremely backward class form a sizeable chunk of scattered voters.

Asked why they blindly support a political party, 36-year-old Amarjit Singh said, “It is not blind support. The favour is based on our long experience with different political parties. Development is fine, but caste arithmetic always remains the key factor in determining the success of a candidate here. No doubt, Nitish has done some work for the welfare of the state but it is not enough. Despite being young and educated, we are unemployed. We support BJP because Prime Minister Narendra Modi will bring investment here which will generate employment opportunities.” He added that Lalu Yadav’s 15 years witnessed widespread violence.

Hari Ram Yadav, a 70-year old resident of Barhara assembly segment of the district, countered, saying, “Lalu is accused of failing to check crimes but I ask who were carrying out criminal activities? They were these Babu Sahebs (Rajputs) who used to barge into our houses to physically assault us and outrage the modesty of our women.”

In the 90s, the Ranvir Sena played a role in many of Bihar's infamous massacres which accounted for nearly 200 lives, many of them of children and women. Formed in 1992, it usually targeted landless labourers and peasants. The Sena said it was committed to protecting the rights of farmers, and was avenging the murder of members of the upper caste, often land-owners, who were killed by the Naxals during their insurgency in Bihar in the 1980s and 90s.

Dalits, the worst victims of Ranvir Sena’s terror, were stopped from casting their votes in the 80s. They are opposed to the BJP because they feel it’s patronising feudal forces. “We will ensure feudal forces never unleash terror on us once again. Even before elections, attempts are being made to push us back where we were 50 years back by taking away our legitimate right of reservation. The irony is that our leader (Ramvilas Paswan) did not utter a single word when RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat made statement against quota,” said Tufani Paswan of the same village.

Out of the total voters (3.15 lakh) in Barhara constituency, Yadavs stand at 68,000, Rajputs at 67,000, Brahmins 30,000 and Muslims 17,000. The rest are EBCs and Mahadalits.

While RJD has fielded Saroj Yadav, Asha Devi is contesting on a BJP ticket and sitting legislature Raghvendra on a Samajwadi Party ticket. Saroj, who is 30, appears to be benefitting from the consolidation of Yadav, Muslim and a large section of EBC voters in his favour.

Bhojpur is one of the country’s 250 most backward districts out of a total of 640. It is one of the 38 districts in Bihar currently receiving funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF).

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Updated Date: Oct 19, 2015 15:05:20 IST