|The villagers of Chaurasi and Hathila with their opinions on placards. Pictures by Sachin
“Road nahi toh vote nahi, no road means no vote,” the writing is on the wall, in bold, red ink, at the entry point of Chaurasi and Hathila villages, separated by a 1km-long broken pathway, in Nalanda district.
Other posters nearby say no MP or MLA or even their supporters are allowed to enter the village. Ironical, since the diktat has been issued by villagers of the home district of chief minister Nitish Kumar, patted often for his vision on road connectivity.
“Who are you? What business do you have here? If you are a member or supporter of any political party, just turn back and go away. Didn’t you see the posters at the entry point? Why do you want to get beaten up and insulted?” menacingly ask two persons who have surfaced suddenly in front of my car.
The red ink in the posters must stand for anger, for this is no rebel country. On the contrary, it is home to many who have protected their nation at various points in their lives. After some explaining, the two men cool down, as unexpectedly as they had surfaced. The bumpy ride to the village begins.
At an intersection ahead we meet Krishna Kumar Singh, 50. He says: “Towards your right is Hathila village and if you move another 500m on the way, you will reach Chaurasi. Don’t worry now. People know you are coming to meet them. It will be better if you walk down. It will take longer if you go by car.”
Apprehensions about what kind of welcome lies ahead are laid to rest after a walk through the serpentine, narrow lanes of the village. A group of villagers have gathered there. “Come inside please and make yourself comfortable,” says one smilingly.
Just then, an elderly man stretched out on the bed suddenly gets up and shouts: “Sab bekaar log hai. Kyu aane diya in party walon ko? (These people are worthless. Why have you let these party people enter?)
Soon, others step in to pacify him. He cools down but still looks irritated.
“See, how angry people are! He too thought you are from a political party. But we have explained it to him now. There are 1,000 voters in these villages. We have always voted for the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar. For almost a decade now we have been asking for this road connecting the two villages. But no one listens to us. Hence, we have decided not to vote for any party in this Lok Sabha election,” says Arun Singh (56), a resident.
The village is on the Patna-Nalanda border. Only 35km from Patna near Daniawa area, JD(U)’s Kaushalendra Kumar is the sitting MP and Usha Sinha of the JD(U) the local MLA. This time too, the JD(U) has fielded Kaushalendra for the Lok Sabha. He is pitted against candidates from the LJP and the Congress.
“In 2002, when George Fernandes was an MP and also the defence minister, he had donated Rs 1.75 lakh for construction of a small bridge connecting the main road to the village and the village road. He was a regular visitor and cared for us,” says Om Prakash Singh, another villager.
“The bridge was built and so was the road but it was a shoddy job and collapsed within a year because of poor construction material. I tell you, if Kaushalendra or even Usha Sinha dare enter the village, they will be beaten up,” warns Om Prakash.
More and more elderly men, all ramrod straight and fit, arrive and sit. Krishna Kumar Singh explains: “An interesting thing about this village is that many here have retired from the armed forces, be it the army, CRPF, BSF, SSB, BMP or Bihar police. Even I am a retired army jawan. The village saw electricity for the first time in 1986, but it was soon gone and we remained in the dark for years. Electricity arrived again late last year, and, fortunately, it is holding on this time. But, a road is the biggest backbone for development anywhere. We have approached the district officials so many times but it has not helped. We even went to the chief minister’s janata durbar, not once or twice but five times. All we have got are assurances. Nobody so much as tells us why the road is not being built.”
A man, who is over 65, and was sitting quietly nearby, suddenly stands up and says: “They don’t want to say the truth. Money for the road must have been swindled. Maybe the road exists on paper. Nitish Kumar’s governance is an example of development on paper, nothing else.”
The villagers are told about the option of rejecting all candidates, by pressing the Nota button on the EVMs. “We know about that. But we have already taken a decision. We will not vote this time and not allow any leader inside this village. Yes, we have heard a lot about Narendra Modi but in villages a decision is always collective and final. Yes, it is not a democratic way but then we have no way out now. It has been over a decade and we want answers to this road problem. You can very well understand the plight of villagers during the monsoons,” says Om Prakash Singh, another villager.
Asked about their future plans, Krishna Kumar Singh says: “We haven’t given a thought about the Assembly polls. If this doesn’t work, we have to turn into one violent mob as we are being left with no other way. Maarenge yaa fir marenge (We will kill or get killed). But a better way would be to adopt the ways of Dashrath Manjhi (the Mountain Man, who through his sheer willpower, used a chisel, hammer and sickle to carve out a 360-ft-long, 25-ft-high and 16-ft-wide road through Gehlaur valley in Gaya). Let us see what we do.”
Two young men fill up glass after glass of nimbu paani (lemonade). The villagers smile and say: “You have travelled far to reach here. You are our guest. You should drink lots of water in this heat.”
Nalanda votes on April 17