Thursday, February 12, 2009
The Bollywood star, being wooed by SP's Bihar unit, may end up wrestling with heavyweights Lalu and Sharad Yadav.
The popular song in the 1996 Hindi film ''Chhote Sarkar' – ' Ek chumma tu mujhko udhaar deyi de aur badle mein UP, Bihar leyi le' (Lend me a kiss and take both UP and Bihar in exchange) – had perhaps predicted it all.
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar's traditionally pivotal roles in deciding the fortunes of India's national politics have once again pitch forked a movie star into the dusty arena of general elections. Bollywood heartthrob and India's most famous daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai is now being earnestly wooed by leaders of the Samajwadi Party (SP)'s Bihar unit to contest the Lok Sabha polls on the party's ticket from this NDA-ruled state.
Aishwarya, the daughter-in-law of star couple Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan, may make her political debut by contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Bihar's Madhepura constituency. While Jaya Bachchan has been a Rajya Sabha MP from the SP from Uttar Pradesh, megastar Amitabh has been an avowed supporter of the SP and friend of the party's top leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh. The SP has already roped in Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt and Bihar's Bhojpuri film star Manoj Tiwari to contest from UP.
If Aishwarya contests from Madhepura, the polls are likely to see an unexpected touch of glamour in the midst of tragedy as Madhepura district had borne the brunt of the Kosi floods six months ago. Thousands of people rendered homeless by the catastrophic floods in the district are still struggling to resume normal life.
It would be mascara pitted against muscle if Aishwarya enters the poll fray in Madhepura, where the polls have remained synonymous with the flexing of muscles by notorious dons. Madhepura is currently represented by criminal-turned-politician Pappu Yadav, who is in Tihar Jail after being sentenced to life term for the murder of CPM leader Ajit Sarkar.
Madhepura, a socio-economically backward constituency, is dominated by the Yadav caste – over 30 per cent of its 12 lakh voters are from the Yadav (cowherd) community. Literacy rate of the electorate in Madhepura is just 28 per cent.
Aishwarya, who is a screen goddess but a political greenhorn, would have to fight against such heavyweights as Railway minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad and the JD(U) national chief and former NDA Union minister Sharad Yadav. These two Yadav leaders have fought pitched battles to win this constituency in the past.
Lalu himself is keen to contest from Madhepura this time as Pappu Yadav may not get the Election Commission's clearance to contest due to his conviction. Lalu's keenness to contest from the Yadav-dominated Madhepura has been evident from the massive relief and rehabilitation efforts he had mounted as Railway Minister in the wake of the Kosi calamity in the district. Lalu had also gifted Madhepura a Rs 1,294-crore green-field electric locomotive manufacturing unit despite the district's sheer absence of sustainable infrastructure.
In the last general elections of 2004, Lalu had defeated Sharad Yadav from Madhepura. The RJD chief and former Bihar chief minister had contested and won from both Chapra and Madhepura in the 2004 polls, but he retained Chapra and let his party colleague Pappu fight and win the Madhepura seat. In the previous Lok Sabha polls of 1999, Sharad Yadav had defeated Lalu in Madhepura.
Unlike in UP, the SP is a fledgling party in Bihar – it contested in 159 seats in the 2005 Bihar Assembly polls and won just two. But it hopes to improve its fortunes by winning at least five of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar whose socio-political scenario resembles UP's. The SP's Bihar state parliamentary board has recommended Aishwarya's name as the party's candidate from Madhepura.
The SP's Madhepura district president Angad Yadav said the district unit leaders and activists of the party have formally written to the party chief to consider Aishwarya for this seat. "We are sure to win this seat if the party ropes in Aishwarya. She is very popular among the masses in Madhepura," Singh told HNN.
"The Bachchan family is so friendly with our party. So if Aishwarya contests from Bihar, our party would certainly gain several seats," said the SP's Bihar state parliamentary board chairman Tulsi Singh. "I have recommended Aishwarya's name to my party chief as that is the desire of a majority of party workers in Madhepura," he added.
But Aishwarya's entry into politics and her contesting from Madhepura still remain subjects of speculation. Neither the SP leadership nor the Bachchan family has so far reacted to the wishes of the Bihar SP's requests. Besides, it is still unclear if the SP would get to contest from Madhepura at all. The party may be denied the Madhepura seat in the event of it allying with the RJD and the LJP in Bihar as part of the UPA coalition.
RJD national spokesman Shyam Rajak said his party has "natural claim" on Madhepura. "We have a sitting MP from there and we have natural claim on it. Madhepura seat belongs to Pappu Yadav. No other party can claim it at this point of time, but our leader Lalu Prasad would have to make the final decision". He refused to speak on the possibility of Lalu contesting from Madhepura.
But the JD(U) is sure that Aishwarya, who was conferred the Padma Shri honour on Republic Day this year, would lose the polls in Madhepura. "Bihar's people have tasted the fruits of development and they will not be foolish to vote anyone just for their glamour," said JD(U) national spokesman and Rajya Sabha MP Shivanand Tiwary to HNN.
Friday, September 18, 2015
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s recent decision to contest the Bihar assembly elections does not augur well for the Janata Dal (United)-Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress camp as his entry is bound to splinter the alliance’s Muslim vote bank. This announcement comes shortly after Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav walked out of the “secular” grand alliance and tied up with the Nationalist Congress Party.
Saturday, September 07, 2013
The 2014 Lok Sabha election will be Bihar’s first in a quarter century to be fought triangularly by three heavyweight parties. The battle will be a direct contest between three powerful politicians of national renown: Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the de facto commandant of the Janata Dal (United); BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi; and the veteran Lalu Prasad Yadav, the head of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, who singlehandedly altered Bihar’s political landscape in the 1990s by politically empowering the backward castes.
Monday, July 08, 2013
‘Minority politics’ is slowly weakening Bihar. The state which was earlier being used as a transit point by terrorists of several hues is now under their direct assault. This is evident from bomb blasts at Bodh Gaya.
In the past five years, especially after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, a number of suspected terrorists have been arrested by the security agencies from Bihar. A majority of them are from north-eastern Bihar, including districts such as Darbhanga, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Purnia and Kishanganj.
Monday, May 25, 2015
The power-point presentation 'Citizen's Alliance' was for Modi's key opponent Nitish Kumar's election campaign for the upcoming Bihar assembly elections. The state is slated to go for polls in September-October this year.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
As the race for the 15th Lok Sabha gains momentum, political posturing, too, is picking pace. Allies of the two major national parties – Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – have been bargaining hard and some of then have even walked out of the alliances.
While the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has shrunk from a 23-party coalition to just six now, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance is in no better shape. After the seat sharing fiasco in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Congress has decided to go alone in the two states even as the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Lok Jan Shakti Party and Samajwadi Party on Thursday decided fight the elections as one block.
In more bad news for the Congress, Union Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss's party, the Pattali Makal Katchi (PMK) with six Lok Sabha seats, has switched sides once again. PMK will contest the elections in partnership with J Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
With new alliance being formed every day, CNN-IBN’s Face the Elections debated: Alliance mela: Do the 2009 elections show an end of ideology?
The panelists included Congress leader and Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences Kapil Sibal and BJP MP and Spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad and the debate was moderated by Senior Editor Sagarika Ghose.
At the start of the programme 81 per cent agreed while 19 per cent disagreed that the 2009 elections show an end of ideology
The Congress, which was sitting pretty just a few days ago, is now left with allies who are either fickle (Mamata Banerjee) or eyeing the top job (Shard Pawar) or are losing support (M Karunanidhi).
Kapil Sibal did not agree and instead claimed that it is the BJP which should be worried about allies deserting it.
“I think the Opposition should be more worried than us because at least those we are fighting in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have publicly stated that they will continue with the UPA. Ultimately they will be with us. So I don’t think we have lost anything. It is the NDA which has lost because from 23 coalition partners they have been reduced to six. We are not worried and frankly we have had an additional alliance with Mamata in West Bengal. So we have not lost anybody other than the PMK. I am sure the PMK is like a stream out of river and it will join the river back after the elections,” claimed Sibal.
Congress seems confident of getting the support of many parties who have left it as they have already backed Manmohan Singh’s candidature as for the post of prime minister. However, in the NDA not many want LK Advani as the prime minister. After Biju Janata Dal (BJD) walked out of the NDA in Orissa, the only major alliance partner is the Janata Dal (United) in Bihar. So Bihar must deliver for the NDA even as there have been miniscule gains in Haryana with the Om Prakash Chautala’s Indian National Lok Lok Dal (NLD) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam.
Prasad began by giving a breakdown of the UPA partners claiming the Congress-led front was steadily losing ground.
“I can understand that Kapil has to undertake some self-consolation as it is a bad time for Congress. The UPA which was an opportunist amalgamation created in 2004 has disintegrated completely before the 2009 elections. Congress was give just nine seats in Uttar Pradesh (six) and Bihar (three) combined out of the 120 seats. In entire Eastern India they have just Mamata who is in alliance but not an ally. In North India they have no alliance; in West they have Sharad Pawar who is not an ally because of his prime ministerial ambition. In South except for Karunanidhi they have no alliance,” Prasad said
“As far as NDA is concerned, JD (U) is with us, Akali Dal is with us, Shiv Sena is with us, Chautala and AGP have joined us. UPA’s PM candidate is still uncertain but here it is Advani,” added Prasad.
The Congress has also been accused of not treating its alliance partners as equals. Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday in an election rally in Puducherry said that it would be “detrimental for Congress to fight elections with allies like RJD and Samajwadi Party in Bihar and UP”. So should words like detrimental be used for key allies like the RJD, and should not the Congress be more equal with its allies?
Sibal retorted by saying that the Congress is a national party and always cannot bow down to its alliance partners.
“It is misrepresentation of what Rahul said. In Bihar we fought four seats last time and won three. This time with any reference to us we were handed just three seats. If a regional party in Bihar wants to make sure that the national party has no presence in the state it means they want to pressurise the national party after the elections for many things. If we continue to accept what our allies are saying then we will become extinct in Bihar. Rahul Gandhi is absolutely right that to retain our presence as national party we need to fight more seats in Bihar,” argued Sibal.
Sibal continued saying the only way for Congress to rebuild itself was to contest more seats.
“If we fight just three seats if Bihar, there is no way we can build our party structure in Bihar. If we fight in only three seats and not in 37 or 40 seats, the Congress workers will be taken over by the RJD, Paswan’s party or to Nitish Kumar. Rahul Gandhi is absolutely right that we want to build in states where the regional parties want to throw us out,” said Sibal.
On the other hand the NDA , too, does not seem to be in better shape. The NDA was a 13-party alliance in 1998 and in 1999 it had 23 parties with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the leader. Now the BJP does not have a Vajpayee-like persona who can keep together ideologically disparate groups. BJP’s communal tag is driving away allies. The absence of a consensus–building figure like Vajpayee seems to the BJP’s biggest problem.
Prasad countered by arguing that Advani has the support of all NDA partners.
“Vajpayeeji’s blessings are always there and he has blessed Advaniji. Advaniji today is the declared and unquestionable prime ministerial candidate of the BJP and the NDA. NDA is intact and stands for new India. But Congress is being decimated. Congress is being marginalised and allies are deserting it. Congress is not a bankable cheque as far as allies are concerned. It is not in the DNA of the Congress to accommodate allies,” said Prasad.
Sibal shot back at Prasad saying it is the BJP that will struggle to keep its partners in days to come
“Prasad says Congress is not a bankable cheque. But look at the NDA. Out of 23 partners they are now left with just six. But he still calls the BJP bankable. The fact is even today Mulayam Singh, Amar Singh and Lok Jan Shakti Party say they have faith in the UPA and will continue to be with the Congress. Despite the fact that we are fighting against each other, they trust us. They are not leaving us. All secular parties will get together to fight communal forces. When the elections results come out, the six parties left with the BJP will also run away. Advaniji will continue to be the prime minister-in-waiting,” he said.
BJP built its alliance on the anti-Congress agenda. But it is proving to be a very weak force now. Perhaps only the Telugu Desam Party will never join the Congress but other parties may have no problems in supporting the UPA. Parties who have minority votes have problems with BJP. Only the Shiv Sena and the Akalis look like never leaving the BJP.
Prasad countered by saying, “AGP and Chautala’s party have joined us. The UPA came to power in 2004 and since then except for Assam, Rajasthan and Delhi the Congress has lost all state elections. Anti-Congress agenda is not dead. Naveen Patnaik, Chandrababu Naidu and AIADMK are anti-Congress. If Kapil Sibal is so sure that they will fight against each other and come together after the elections then they are fooling the people of the country. Only NDA can deliver.”
Sibal concluded by taking a dig at the NDA.
“The NDA today has 172 seats. How they will deliver and when they will deliver? Maybe they will have to wait till 2018 if at all they have a chance,” he said.
Friday, June 28, 2013
For the political journalist who thrives on caste arithmetic, Bihar is perhaps the last refuge. Even on a whistle-stop visit to Patna to interview the Bihar chief minister, every conversation veers to the impact of Nitish Kumar’s decision to part ways with the BJP. For the rest of India, the battle maybe couched as a Nitish versus Narendra Modi personality clash; in Bihar, it is seen through the prism of caste. The big question being asked is: can Nitish sustain the social coalition he has so assiduously cultivated in the last decade or will the break-up with the BJP create a new caste and community matrix?
Sunday, July 21, 2013
The 23 innocent school children in Bihar, who ate their lunch but paid a price for it by dying as a consequence, is no doubt a shocker. That the school had no storage, no kitchen, and virtually no quality concern, is patent from all accounts pouring out of that state. The worst, however, is that the state invited it by poor concern for the midday meals programme as evidenced by the non-utilisation of the funds meant for building kitchens and buying utensils. What the Centre provided was parked in fixed deposits to earn interest.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Asaduddin Owaisi has tossed his topi (cap) into the Bihar election ring after dithering for a month. But Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM)’s prospects in Bihar’s Seemanchal belt are bleak despite the unusually high percentage of Muslim voters in the 25 assembly seats Owaisi is eyeing in the backward region.
Monday, September 30, 2013
Lalu Prasad Yadav has risen from being a virtual non-entity, even in his native Bihar, to arguably one of the best known political leaders in India even if he has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. True, Lalu had been a member of the Lok Sabha as early as 1977, when the Janata Party made a clean sweep of all 54 seats in Bihar riding a wave of popular anger against the Emergency which had ended barely three months before the elections were held.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Seemanchal, the hotbed of Muslim politics in northeastern Bihar, has been stirred politically by a recent visit by All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi ahead of state assembly polls.
Though it was Owaisi's maiden visit to Bihar, it appeared to be a move to create a situation almost akin to the Lok Sabha polls, when JD-U candidate Akhtarul Iman unilaterally withdrew from the contest in Kishanganj to strengthen the hands of the Congress nominee and avert a split in secular votes.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
The party does not seem to be sure of its Modi magic working by itself and is likely to use the census data to fuel fear of a Muslim upsurge to consolidate its Hindu vote.
The decision of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government to release the country’s population figures on the basis of religion has raised doubts about the real intentions of the ruling alliance.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Senior RSS leader Dattatrey Hosbole had called a meeting on Bihar election related matters on Monday evening. BJP's Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav, general secretary Murlidhar Rao and other key leaders like V Satish, Saroj Pandey and Vinay Sahastrabudhi were present in the meeting as well.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
On 16 April, Bihar’s capital, Patna, witnessed an act of political grandstanding by the Janata Dal (United), which leads the state’s ruling coalition. Shivanand Tiwari, Rajya Sabha MP and party spokesperson, called a press conference to attack his party’s junior coalition partner, the BJP. “We haven’t forced the BJP to partner us and it is free to walk out,” Tiwari thundered. “The government will survive without it.”
Perhaps the BJP thought, he smirked, it was more important of the two because it ruled several states while the JD(U) ruled only Bihar. If the BJP quits, he said, “we will fight Bihar’s election by ourselves: all the 40 Lok Sabha seats and all the 243 Assembly seats.” Left unsaid was that minus the JD(U), the BJP cannot really hope to storm back to power in New Delhi at the head of a coalition following next year’s General Election.
The two parties have never bickered as much as now during their partnership of 17 years, through several prequels and splinters of the JD(U). Bihar Chief Minister and JD(U)’s de facto supremo, Nitish Kumar, threw the gauntlet by daring the BJP to name Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate and risk a break with the JD(U). Secularism, Kumar said, was non-negotiable, and then followed up by saying Modi should own up to the killing of some 2,000 Muslims in February-March 2002 by zealots linked with the RSS, the BJP’s ideological parent, which supplies the party most of its politicians, including Modi. The BJP shot back, telling Kumar to mind his business.
Monday, September 21, 2015
The decision of All India Majlis-e Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) to enter the Assembly poll fray in Bihar, albeit on a limited scale, has stirred up the hornet's nest. More than the political parties, the media appears to be perturbed and upset by AIMIM's move. TV channels and print media unleashed the propaganda that AIMIM's entry would help BJP at the cost of the Grand Alliance of “secular parties."
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
By LIKHAVEER | INNLIVE
When stringers are attacked or killed, the struggle for justice begins with determining whether they are journalists at all.
Last week, television journalist Akhilesh Pratap Singh was shot dead in Chhatra, Jharkhand. Barely than 24 hours later, in neighbouring Bihar, Hindustan journalist Rajdeo Ranjan was gunned down in Siwan.
The murders have exposed the faultlines in the media, not least the most basic, which is the ability to access and swiftly disseminate authentic information.
Journalists scrambled to get information on the two incidents. In the absence of independent information, political parties quickly stepped in and traded allegations on the breakdown of law and order in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Jharkhand and Bihar, where the Rashtriya Janata Dal is part of the coalition government.
Meanwhile, five days on, no clear motives have emerged with regard to either of the killings.
Three journalists have been murdered in India this year. On February 13, Karun Mishra, the bureau chief of newspaperJan Sandesh was shot dead by unidentified persons in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh. Five days after the incident, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav ordered a probe and police arrested five persons from the mining mafia.
Akhilesh Singh, locally known as Indradev Yadav, was a journalist with a news channel. Unidentified persons gunned him down at Dewaria in Chatra district of Jharkhand that borders Bihar and where a faction of a Maoist group called the Tritiya Prastuti Committee is active. The group, police said, indulges in extortion of money for petty contractors and local businessmen.
On Monday, police claimed a breakthrough in the case, arresting two persons. On Tuesday, a third person – Suraj Sao, the aide of BJP MLA Ganesh Ganjhu – was detained. The police said the journalist also took up civic works on contract and was killed over a dispute with members of the TMC and the MLA’s aide over the levy of money to be paid in exchange for a contract awarded to him. The police have discounted the involvement of the MLA in the killing.
But less than a day later, when news came in of the murder of Rajdeo Ranjan, the BJP were quick to denounce the “Jungle Raj” in Bihar.
In March, a photograph of jailed RJD leader Mohammad Shahabuddin sharing snacks with Bihar minister Abdul Ghafoor inside Siwan jail went viral. Rajdeo Ranjan was reportedly behind the leak. According to BJP leader and former Bihar chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, Ranjan’s murder was revenge.
While police are still investigating the charge, Ranjan’s wife Asha Yadav has gone on record to say that her husband was killed for a series of news reports against Shahabuddin's interests. She further claimed that Ranjan figured on Shahabuddin’s “hit list”, which police were privy to at least two years ago. Fellow journalists were divided on these claims, but said there was definitely more to the murder than meets the eye.
On Monday, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar announced a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into Ranjan’s death, even as the motive for his murder remains unclear.
Almost every time a journalist is murdered in India – 29 since media watch website The Hoot began tracking free speech violations in 2010 – there is the involvement of politicians or local business people or the oil, timber and sand mafias, or those involved in illegal felling of forests, land grabbing, exploiting child labour, chit fund scams, or even cases of medical negligence.
By now, that’s a given.
It’s after the killing that a pattern quickly emerges. When journalists are attacked or killed, the struggle for justice begins with determining whether they are journalists at all, whether they died for their journalism and not owing to any “personal” dispute or business links. Before the crucial questions of who killed them and why can be asked, the case is over.
There currently exists a gulf between the journalists employed on contract in mainstream media and journalists such as Ranjan, who work independently or are associated as stringers with local or national newspapers and broadcast channels. Unprotected and unorganised, the plight of journalists in the regional media is much more precarious.
While the nexus between local politicians and business interests is hardly surprising, what is disturbing is the role of media houses in refusing to acknowledge these footsoldiers. Often, the mainstream media publications they may work for or contribute regularly to, may wash their hands of them, denying completely – even in the face of incontrovertible evidence – their employment, that they worked for them or had anything to do with them.
The dirty secret in the media is the manner in which journalists are constrained to work as advertising agents too. Often, the commissions they earn from advertising may be more than their salaries, points out senior journalist and media analyst Anil Chamadia, who worked for years in Bihar before he shifted to Delhi to set up a media watch organisation, People’s Media Group.
Discredited as journalists for working as advertising agents, they occupy a grey zone in an already fractured mediascape. It becomes far easier to isolate and target them when their journalistic reports ruffle the feathers of local power centres, politicians and businessfolk. Shooting these messengers of unsavoury and unflattering information, who refuse to remain plaint and push invisible boundaries, also serves another purpose – it will silence others as well.
Those responsible also know that they can get away with it. They can easily prevail upon local police and administration to drag their feet in the investigation. Is it any wonder that demands are now routinely made for a CBI probe in almost every instance? Invariably, the poor investigation, compounded by interminable trials, end up in acquittals. In all the killings of journalists so far, there has not been a single conviction.
And the struggle to secure some justice for their killings, left to family members or colleagues, becomes a long and solitary battle.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Number one Anne Marg is the most high-profile and prominent address in Patna, residence-cum-office of the chief minister of Bihar. It’s a Monday morning and the lawns are abuzz with visitors from neighbouring villages and districts. It’s the chief minister’s day for an open house, or “Janata ki durbar mein Nitish Kumar” (Nitish Kumar in the people’s court), as the man himself puts it.
Almost like the avuncular chief of a village panchayat, Kumar sits by a table, under a makeshift shamiana. Before him is a stack of files, and a telephone. At the next table sit three bureaucrats, secretaries to the government of Bihar, and part of a tribe that Kumar watchers say he trusts more than he does many of his party colleagues. Ministers are also hanging around. Since today is the Monday designated for education and health issues and, complaints, the relevant ministers are present.
Monday, June 08, 2009
This country's path out of the global economic turmoil may start here, among a community of outcastes who dine on rats.
In Bihar, India's poorest and least literate major state, the Mushahar are the poorest and least literate. Most are farm laborers. About one in 10 can read. So impoverished is this group that they hunt field rats to supplement a deprived diet. Mushahar is Hindi for "rat eater."
But the outlook for the state's two million Mushahar has brightened in the past year. Thanks to government aid programs, more Mushahar children are attending school. Increased state investment in roads and local factories has put their parents to work. Demand for laborers has pushed up wages for field work.
In a sign of the times, a government proposal to promote rat farming was ridiculed by the Mushahar, the very group of untouchables, or Dalits, it was supposed to benefit. They worried it would pull their children out of school and extend a social stigma to the next generation. Some protested on the streets of Bihar's capital, Patna, shouting: "We want to learn to use a computer mouse, not catch mice."
The Mushahar in Bihar are part of a political and economic shift that is building across the Indian countryside. The transformation, largely driven by development spending by national and state policy makers, will be put to a test starting next week. The world's largest democracy kicks off a month of polling April 16 in which many of the leaders behind these experiments are seeking re-election.
Growth has slowed in the new India of technology outsourcing, property development and securities trade. But old India -- the rural sector that is home to 700 million of the country's billion-plus people -- shows signs it can pick up the slack. The rural awakening helps explain why India continues to grow even as the U.S. recession drags on the world economy.
The change is largely political. In years past, many state leaders rode to power with vows to give voice to lower-caste voters. But after failing for the most part to lift living standards, these officials have been replaced in many cases by leaders who have. In poor and largely rural states from Orissa in the east to Rajasthan in the west, many new leaders have invested in health, education and infrastructure. That has set the stage for the creation of industry and consumer markets and enabled upward mobility.
It's unclear whether development spending in rural India will spark longer-term expansion. "Up till now, a lot of our growth has been bubble growth," says Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman of Infosys Technologies Ltd., a software and outsourcing company. "That makes the internal reforms even more important now, so we create momentum for future growth."
The rural economic rise is recent, with few figures yet available for 2008. In the five-year period ending in 2007, rural Indians' consumer spending grew faster than that of city dwellers, according to Indian brokerage IIFL. Rural India has surpassed urban centers in the number of households earning $2,000 a year, above which families begin to have disposable income.
Companies from Coca-Cola Co. to telecom provider Reliance Communications India Ltd. say rising sales in once-spurned rural areas are driving their India growth. The Indian unit of LG Electronics, which sells low-voltage appliances for power-deprived areas, expects rural areas to account for 45% of its Indian sales this year, up from 35% last year. Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., a car and tractor maker, says it couldn't keep up with orders for its new Xylo, a cross between a minivan and SUV, in part because of surprising rural demand.
"If any one part of the economy is decoupled from the global crisis, it is India's rural sector," says Anand Mahindra, vice chairman of auto maker's parent company, Mahindra Group.
The countryside's strength comes in part from a trade policy that free-market economists say may hurt India in the long run. Tariffs on agricultural imports are among the world's highest and may have deterred investment in rural India. But these tariffs have also sheltered swaths of the country. An estimated 88% of India's rural incomes are tied to activities inside those markets, according to IIFL.
Even slight improvements here are significant, economists say, because they build on a base of practically zero. "For so long, these states were a drag on our economy," says Surjit Bhalla, head of Oxus Research & Investments, an advisory firm in New Delhi. "Now larger rural populations can become a fillip to growth."
India's economy has held up better than most, in spite of slowing tech sales and falling real-estate and stock markets. The International Monetary Fund projects India will grow 5.1% in 2009, faster than Brazil (1.8%) and Russia (-0.7%). India is also closing the gap on China, whose 6.7% projected growth for 2009 marks a sharp decline from recent double-digit gains.
Bihar, which borders Nepal, was once a breadbasket of eastern India. But it largely missed out on the economic miracle of the last decade. In the 1990s, as India's economy expanded about 5% a year, Bihar barely grew.
Infrastructure was poor. Farm goods often rotted before reaching the market. Amid corruption and rampant crime, the state was branded India's "kidnap capital." The young left to seek education and jobs.
More than half Bihar's 83 million residents live below the international poverty line of about $1 dollar a day. Fewer than half are literate. The state attracted $167 million in foreign direct investment between 1994 and 2004, a period when India as a whole attracted $29 billion.
Government Open House
In recent years, political candidates won elections with promises to empower to lower-caste voters. But education, health and infrastructure projects were often neglected, presenting opportunity for opponents. In late 2005, a former railways minister from a low-caste background, Nitish Kumar, became chief minister, the leader of Bihar state.
Breaking from the torpid bureaucracy of his predecessors, the 58-year-old Mr. Kumar has tried to prod the government machinery into action. He hosts Monday open houses at his residence, where ministers and department secretaries are required to field public complaints. Bureaucrats must also accompany him to town-hall meetings in far corners of the state, where they pitch tents in fields. His critics say the exercises simply aim to drum up votes; Mr. Kumar says an open government serves the people and the economy.
"My message is that democracy should provide solutions to the problems," he said in an interview at his residence, where he wore traditional white linen trousers and shirt.
With an alliance led by his ruling Janata Dal (United) party, Mr. Kumar has built thousands of miles of roads. He has hired 200,000 schoolteachers and is recruiting 100,000 more. He has lured private-clinic doctors back to public hospitals.
Development projects and strong harvests have helped Bihar's economy close the gap with the national average. The state is growing at an annual rate of about 5.5%, and that is expected to accelerate, according to the Asian Development Research Institute. The number of people migrating out dropped 27% in the 2006-08 period compared with 2001-03, according to the Bihar Institute of Economic Studies, a local think tank.
Homes in a Gully
One of Mr. Kumar's toughest challenges is improving the lot of the Mushahar in places like Dev Kuli village.
Home to about 10,000 people, Dev Kuli is surrounded by farming hamlets and abuts a two-lane highway where long-haul trucks blast their air horns as they rumble toward New Delhi. The lives of all residents, from low caste to high, have long revolved around the rice and wheat harvests.
Several hundred village families are outcaste Mushahar, who live among goats, pigs and swarms of flies in a dried-out gully. The government began to build brick houses but left them without windows or doors.
As a caste the government has identified as "extremely backward," the Mushahar will be eligible for a $57 million government program that will provide families with a water supply, toilets, radios and educational support, according to Vijoy Prakash, the principal secretary for two government departments dedicated to low-caste assistance.
On Mr. Prakash's desk sits a stuffed rat, a reminder of who such programs aim to help. Yet he says past efforts have failed in part because only 9% of the Mushahar can read. "This is the group that has remained excluded from India's growth," he says.
As the sun came up on a recent day, a group of Mushahar gathered round a water pump to wash clothes. Later in the morning a long line of Mushahar children made their way up a mud embankment and, in a profound departure from community tradition, headed to primary school.
Parents complain that their children face discrimination even at Dev Kuli's one-room school for Mushahar children, the name of which translates as "Slum People's Primary School." Children from other castes attend a school nearby.
The government has repaired the school's roof in recent months, hired a new teacher and added an extra bathroom to provide privacy for girls. Even so, the school doesn't have chairs or desks, so students sit on empty grain bags and write on a cement floor covered with dirt.
Each day, a group of government-hired Mushahar, known as "motivators," roust children from their homes and escort them to class. Motivator Phulwanti Devi, a recent and rare Mushahar college graduate, says she battles parents almost every morning to release their children from farm work.
"We tell them, 'It will improve their future,'" says Ms. Devi, 25 years old.
"They reply, 'We don't see that you have such a good job.' I tell them: 'I have a diploma, and so I can get a better job. What about you?'"
Still, Ms. Devi and other motivators say attendance at the school has grown. Teachers say about 150 children are enrolled. On a recent day, the motivators rounded up about half that many.
There are other challenges. Some motivators say they haven't been paid their salaries of 2,000 rupees a month, about $40. Local officials occasionally tell teachers to skip class to conduct government work, such as counting votes at election time.
Mr. Prakash, the secretary for lower castes, says the motivators will soon be paid from funds his department has set aside. Bihar's education secretary, Anjani Kumar Singh, says a Bihar court has ruled that teachers can't skip class for government work, but admitted the order could be hard to enforce at election time.
Generating genuine business activity among a largely illiterate community hasn't been easy, either, judging by Mr. Prakash's rat-farming initiative. He estimated that three million people in the state would welcome a stable supply of the protein-rich meat.
Many Mushahar say they enjoy the meat, typically barbecued or cooked with a spicy masala, and believe it keeps their hair dark. But many resented being pushed into farming them. "If we get involved in rat farming, our children will also get involved," says Ms. Devi.
After some Mushahar protested in Patna late last summer, Mr. Kumar, the chief minister, shelved the proposal.
Yet Dev Kuli's economy has improved. The infrastructure push has created jobs building and repairing roads. That has helped bring factories to the area, say locals, including a steel mill and a cola-bottling plant. Those jobs have boosted farm wages to the point where the Mushahar won't work in the fields for less than about $2 a day, says Raj Ballabh Raji, a local farmer from a different caste.
Mr. Raji, who now works his six acres with a new tractor, notes one more sign of prosperity. "You can now find a petrol pump within a mile of here," he says in a tone of pleasant surprise. "The economy is changing."
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
In Nayagaon Dumri, Dilip Singh is busy organising a "grand dinner" for around 5,000 people. On the menu are traditional Bihari delicacies like litti, chokha, meat and for those who want it, there's enough and more liquor. If any official from the Election Commission should land up and ask him about the event, he is celebrating his nephew's birthday.
This village Dumri on Hajipur-Chapra road lies in the Saran parliamentary constituency which is witnessing the electoral battle between former chief minister and RJD chief Lalu Yadav's wife Rabri Devi and former union minister and BJP general secretary Rajiv Pratap Singh Rudy.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
A rousing welcome for the BJP’s PM-candidate Narendra Modi. This is, after all, his most important rally to date — not just to put former ally Nitish Kumar, who blocked Modi’s entry into Bihar for years, in his place, but also to stake his claim to parts of the country that have not had the opportunity to welcome him before.