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Test for Nitish showpiece

Darveshpura — a Bhumihar-dominated village nearly 30km west of the tourist hotspot of Rajgir — is a typical example of development for which Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has praised Nitish Kumar’s rule in Bihar.

The village on the Rajgir-Giriyak road, 135km southwest of Patna, was inaccessible until four years ago as the river Sakri prevented commuters from entering the village from the western side. The eastern part had a “taal (water body)” which, because of water spilled from the Sakri and aided by the monsoon, would submerge the village for most of the year.

Thanks to Nitish’s “most favoured” treatment to the village, Darveshpura has everything a modern hamlet should have — two sparkling bridges on the river Sakri, a silicon-smooth road passing through it, a high school, a public health centre and electricity for almost 18 hours in a day. Nitish went to town with his achievements when President Pranab Mukherjee conferred the Krishi Karman Award to farmer Sumant Kumar for producing 224 quintals of paddy per hectare and creating a world record of sorts last year. The village got a canal three years ago to irrigate its farmlands and increase productivity.

While the village is a typical symbol of Nitish’s “model” of development, it is also evidence that performance cannot be the sole criteria to earn votes. “Is baar Narendra Modi ka hava hai. Hum log Narendra Modi ke naam par vote dengein (There is a wave in favour of Narendra Modi. This time around we will vote in Narendra Modi’s name),” says Anil Kumar Sharma (60), an elderly Darveshpura villager.

Asked why the village was talking of a Narendra Modi wave when Nitish has pulled it out of an age-old morass and ensured decent standard of living to its denizens, Arbind Kumar, another resident, counters: “Even Indira Gandhi had done so much work in Rae Bareli (Uttar Pradesh). But Raj Narayan defeated her in 1977 and the song Jhumka gira ray, Bareili ke bazaar mein gained notoriety”.

It must come as a shock to Nitish that most of the 150 upper caste Bhumihar families who have seen a turnaround in their living conditions have given in to the “wave” in his “karmbhoomi” created by his arch rival Narendra Modi, chief minister of a far western state whom Darveshpura villagers did not even know till a few years ago.

The only solace for Nitish is that the Bhumihars’ change of heart need not necessarily upset his applecart here. The 19 per cent Kurmis and 29 per cent extremely backward castes (EBCs) and his core constituency of Mahadalits should help the JD(U)’s Kaushilendra Kumar romp home without hassle.

“Elections, at times, throw up surprises. But it is blasphemous to think that Nitish’s nominee will lose here. You cannot defeat Nitish by any calculation in Nalanda,” asserts Munna Singh alias Dhirendra Kumar Singh, Nitish’s neighbour in Kalyanbigha village.

Yadavs might be staunch Lalu loyalists everywhere else in the state but in Kalyanbigha they say Nitish is like “their chacha (uncle), bhai (brother), bhatija (cousin).” A Yadav youth here says: “He knows all of us by name and face. What face will we show him if he finds us voting against him? He (Nitish) is the pride of Nalanda.”

During a whirlwind tour through Asthawan, Biharsharif, Rajgir (SC), Islampur, Hilsa, Nalanda and Harnaut — Assembly segments in Nalanda Lok Sabha constituency — and talks with a cross-section of people, it emerged that Nitish’s candidate, Kaushilendra Kumar, had a clear edge over his rivals — mainly BJP-backed LJP’s Satyanand Sharma and former Bihar director-general of police and the RJD-backed Congress candidate, Asish Ranjan Sinha.

The Narendra Modi “wave” appeared confined to about nine percent upper castes and barely two percent Baniyas, who, even otherwise, are believed to be traditional BJP voters. The upper castes in Nalanda appeared more “pissed off” with Nitish for the latter’s “promotion” of the underprivileged EBCs and Mahadalits. “Nitish ne chhoti jatiyon ka man barha diya. Ab khet par kam karne ke liye mazdoor nahin milta (Nitish has encouraged lower castes. Now, it is hard to find farm hands,” laments Suman Kumar, a Bhumihar at Giriak near Rajgir. But the fact remains that Suman’s upper caste constitutes 12 per cent of the population against Kurmis, EBCs and Mahadalits who form 48 per cent of Nalanda’s electorate and are solidly behind the JD(U).

Extremely rich in culture, tradition and history, Nalanda has been Nitish Kumar’s bastion for over two decades. It was because of Nitish’s “largesse” that George Fernandes — the founder of JD(U)’s earlier avatar called Samata Party — won this “safe” seat thrice in 1990s. Nitish had won from the seat in 2004 but demitted it to become the chief minister in 2005. His protégé Kaushilendra — a former mukhiya — won it in 2009 and is trying his luck again here.

The VIP constituency was already on the international map for its rich history, tourism and production of seasonal vegetables, besides wheat, paddy and maize. The upcoming international university and the ancient seat of learning joining the race to become a world heritage site are like feathers on its cap, all initiatives that bear Nitish Kumar’s signature on them. No wonder, the sylvan surroundings of Nalanda, rich with lush green hills and black stone mountains, often offer the embattled Nitish the apt setting to relax and rest in.

● Nalanda votes on April 17


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