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Home truths hit Nitish on shaky turf
Yatra for status, poll campaign launch later

Bunna Devi (40) eventually managed to meet Nitish Kumar and lodge her complaint about her daughter Anita (16), missing since the last two months.

Bunna, wailing uncontrollably, tried to meet the chief minister on the dais with an application about Anita after all her efforts at filing an FIR with the local police went in vain.

But security personnel and JD(U) cadres stopped her. Nitish noticed her and asked her to speak to him. Bunna handed over her application following which Nitish directed the police to take appropriate action. Picture by Ajit Kumar Verma

Bagaha (West Champaran), March 5: Nitish Kumar today launched his Sankalp Yatra for special category status at the karmbhoomi of Mahatma Gandhi, the resolve very much there but the sparks missing, the lustre fading from the effects of time, of being in power for eight years.

Nitish ab badal gaye hain. Pahle jaise hil-mil kar baat nahin karte. Baat sunte nahin hain. Keval apna raag alapte hain (Nitish has changed now. He no longer mingles with us and interacts affably. He does not listen. He only sings his own oft-repeated tune),” remarked Birijhan Majhi, a 90-year-old veteran from Patilar — a village barely 10 km from Bagaha, about 300km northwest of Patna on the border with Nepal.

It was at this very village in 2008 that Nitish had spent a night talking to villagers during his Vikas Yatra.

Birijhan, sitting among many of his co-villagers, old and young, men and women, summed up the mood at this village of 15,000 people, mostly belonging to the Extremely Backward Classes and Mahadalits — considered to be Nitish’s core constituency. “Gaon ke puraniya hain, theek kah rahe hain (He, Birijhan, is a respected old man of the village. He is right),” said Shivkali Devi (60), a Mahadalit woman.

The villagers who got the chance to share their dukh aur sukh (grief and happiness) with an affably responsive Nitish in 2008 preferred to stay at their doors when the chief minister was today was administering his “pledge” to the state not to rest till Bihar got special category status.

Perhaps sensing that the crowd was far from being responsive to his call, Nitish preferred not to launch his election campaign at the rally. “This yatra is only for special category status. We will launch the election campaign separately,” he said.

While the villagers of Patilar and adjoining settlements preferred to stay put in their homes, a small crowd of around 5,000 people, among them lawyers, who are usually present in the sub-divisional court’s campus, his JD(U) cadres and securitymen greeted Nitish. Two sections of protesters — one showing a banner for the government’s failure to enrol them as teachers in spite of having passed the eligibility test for the posts and another group clamouring for a hike in their wages for preparing mid-day meals in schools — came in the way of Nitish beginning his Sankalp Yatra in style.

Some JD(U) cadres wielded batons to scatter the protesters and let the chief minister to carry on with his speech.

Nitish made an impassioned appeal to the people to keep supporting his campaign for special category status. “Hum logon ko pitne ke liye inke paas taquat hai, hamare samasya ke nidan ka taquat inke paas nahi hai (They — read JDU cadres — have got the strength to beat us. They don’t have strength to solve our problems),” murmured a miffed teacher’s job aspirant.

Champaran — the karmbhoomi of Mahatma Gandhi — has been a favourite destination of Nitish Kumar. The beginning of today’s yatra was his sixth from the region. Nitish had begun his first yatra, christened Nyay Yatra, in 2005 that paved the way for him to become chief minister.

Nitish, to a great extent, has kept his pledge with the people of the region. He built roads and put an end to lawlessness which the Champaran region in particular was infamous for.

What might have been agonising for Nitish today is the fact that the people are finding it hard to associate themselves with the special category demand he is clamouring for so hard. “It is hard for us to figure out how special category status will help us. Nitish has turned his attention away from the real problems,” said Paras Sahani (60) of Lauriha.


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