This is the first in a three-part report on the mood in the state, which is in the midst of six-phase Assembly elections
Lalu Prasad: Yes; Rabri Devi: No. The two opposition leaders are trying to win back the confidence of the masses in Bihar. But in their backyard, the result of their exertions is mixed. Phulwaria, Lalu Prasad’s birthplace, sees overwhelming support for the Yadav leader. Three kms away at former chief minister Rabri Devi’s village Salar Kala, people, however, want Nitish Kumar to return to head the state.
A stone’s throw from Rabri Devi’s ancestral home, there is a health centre in Salar Kala. “The centre was built long ago. Only recently, during Nitish Kumar’s regime, have we seen doctors coming regularly. Medicines have been made available,” says Jain Kumar Singh, a vendor of mobile phone connections.
It is a Kushwaha-dominated village. Although Kushwahas and Yadavs both fall in the Other Backward Classes category, the groups have separate political aspirations.
Lalu Prasad, however, will still win a popularity poll in Phulwaria. This is a village dominated by Yadavs and caste camaraderie pays higher dividends than developmental efforts by Nitish Kumar’s government.
“Even if you talk about development, Laluji had already done everything for the village. There is a power sub-station, 30-bed hospital, telephone exchange, registry office and police station,” says Subhas Prasad Yadav.
Lalu’s brother, Gulab Yadav, still lives in the village where the Yadav brothers have three houses, apart from farmland. “I feel the atmosphere is in favour of my brother. People are fed up with corruption in Nitish Kumar’s rule,” he says.
In many parts of Bihar, the credit for improved roads it notched up to Nitish Kumar’s government even if they are National Highways or roads built under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna, which means they are funded by the central government. But Lalu’s political message has gone down well in his Phulwaria.
“Arre, all these roads are done with Central funds. Anybody can do this if you get money from Delhi. Why give Nitish Kumar the credit?” questions Kamlesh Yadav, adding: “Yes, the law & order situation has improved. But officials have become arrogant and inaccessible.”
Rabri Devi’s parents are in a dilemma as their daughter is a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate, while son Sadhu Yadav is contesting on a Congress ticket from neighbouring Gopalganj. Both Phulwaria and Salar Kala fall in the Hathua constituency, but Maharajo Devi, the mother, says, “I don’t know which way to go.”
Bhola Singh and friend Nandlal Singh are, however, clear: “What is so important about Rabri Devi’s house being in this village? We want development.” Villagers like Rajji Singh—another Kushwaha—fear that “once the RJD comes back to power, its leaders will try to capture our land”.
But there is one similarity between the two VIP villages: both are angry with their incumbent JD(U) MLA Ramsevak Singh. While Salar Kala will still vote for him for the sake of Nitish Kumar, Lalu’s Phulwaria will oppose him to see its favourite leader back in power.