Ahmedabad, Dec. 16: Ajay Choudhary (41), born and brought up in a poor farmer’s family of north Bihar’s Madhubani district, came to Surat as a 22-year-old in search of a livelihood, as he had neither resources to fund his studies beyond Class XII nor the work to sustain him and his family.
Nineteen years down the line, Choudhary is the president of the non-Gujarati-speaking people’s association, a wing of the Gujarat BJP, and serves as a “fabulous” host to Bihar BJP leaders, ministers and cadres apart from the people, in general, from his home state. “I learnt the art of dyeing and earned Rs 5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh a month by serving as the dyeing consultant to various textile companies proliferating in Surat,” Ajay told The Telegraph, narrating the saga of his rags-to-riches, while serving delicious food and comfort to his partymen from his home state landing in hordes to canvass in favour of the Narendra Modi government.
“Politics was not the first thing that I adopted after coming here. I joined the job as a small-time worker in a textile company and in a short period I learnt the art of dyeing. I became a reputed dyeing master in the textile industries,” said Ajay, adding: “It was Gujarat and its atmosphere that has made what I am today. Though I love the state of my birth and upbringing, I cannot even think of returning to Bihar.”
There are estimated five lakh Biharis working in diamond, textile, hotel, service and other industries in Gujarat. Surat, which accounts for 92 per cent of the world’s diamond trade, has the highest concentration of Biharis, trailed by Ankleshwar and Ahmedabad.
The Nitish Kumar government has repeatedly been claiming that Bihar is working in other parts of the country were returning because of the “improved” working conditions in their home state. Last year, a research by an IIM-Ahmedabad group too indicated that the Bihar workers engaged in different sectors in Gujarat might be returning to Bihar causing some labour problem in Gujarat’s business and industry.
The ground reality, however, reflects a contrary picture. “As many as 12 Assembly constituencies in Surat alone that went to polls on December 13 had a population of four lakh Bihari workers, entrepreneurs, professionals and politicians. This number is rising every year. I already have more than 200 people from the state waiting to come to our special economic zone (SEZ),” said Premshankar Ojha, the SEZ’s public relations officer, who hails from Balliah district in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
A senior Gujarat-cadre IAS officer belonging to Bihar too confessed that the claim of Biharis returning to Bihar was “all bunkum”. “Bihar might be doing well under Nitish Kumar’s stewardship. But there is no comparison in the context of opportunities, working atmosphere and prosperity between the two states. You can find hundreds of Biharis — little educated but skilled in diamond polishing, dyeing, hardware repair and mechanics — making fortunes in Gujarat. With their qualification and skill they might not have been earning enough even to keep their body and soul together in Bihar. There are far more opportunities to earn and have quality life in the western state.”
What would look like a proverbial wonder to the visitors from the Gangetic plains at Barachha Bazaar — a diamond market in Surat — is that the place was teeming with people as in the vegetable and fish markets at Raja Bazaar and Mithapur of Patna. “The scene is nothing unusual. People gather here in large numbers to buy and sell diamonds and jewellery,” said Rakesh Patel (30), who was working as expert in a diamond factory at Surat SEZ, which had many other factories too.
Explaining the quantum of business at the SEZ, Surat, the deputy chief executive officer (CEO) of the DGDC, a diamond company owned by SN Sharma, hailing Bihar’s Jehanabad district, said: “The 70-acre Surat SEZ alone exported goods worth Rs 38,156 crore to world markets in the 2011-12 fiscal. And four months before completion of the 2012-13 fiscal, the SEZ has exported goods worth over Rs 31,000 crore.”
“In fact, we are looking to engage more people in the SEZ, which has carbon, hardware, batteries, computer and many other industries. We are getting more response from Bihar and many other eastern states against our demand for workers. We offer jobs that pay Rs 9,000 to Rs 10,000 monthly even to matriculates,” the deputy CEO said.
Sources said Surat Municipal Corporation had presented an annual budget of Rs 3,100 crore in the 2011-12 fiscal, promising the city’s the wake of “better working conditions back home”. “I keep on visiting my native village in Siwan district and I am very happy that things are improving in Bihar. Nitishji is a good chief minister carrying out development work. But the situation back home is still not good enough for us to pack our business from here and go back to Bihar,” said Ajay Singh (44) at Garhkhol. Ajay is in the jewellery business. “We still think of getting more members of our family to work and settle in Gujarat rather than other way round,” he said.
The primary reason for Gujarat holding on to its immigrants employed in its various sectors appears to be the existence of far better working atmosphere, infrastructure, unabated supply of electric power, pouring investments, superior law and order situation and quality life in comparison to Bihar or for that matter other eastern and central states.