|Jehanabad JD(U) candidate Anil Kumar Sharma campaigns at Mashar village. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh
This industrialist is selling industry dreams in agrarian Jehanabad even if there seem to be no takers.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar talked of big-ticket investments in Jehanabad but changed tack when India Inc didn’t come running. But his party’s Jehanabad candidate, 50-year-old Anil Kumar Sharma, chairman-cum-managing director of the Noida-based Amrapali Group, is relentless. The civil engineer and IIT-Kharagpur alumnus tells a household in the Bhumihar-dominated Bishunpur village, 87km south of Patna: “Har ghar se ek ladka chahiye mujhe. Har ghar ek ko naukri mil jaye toh baat hi kuch aur hoga. (I need a youth from each home. If one person from each family gets a job, then things will change so much).”
The richest candidate in the fray in Bihar, with assets worth Rs 880 crore, is brimming with ideas as he gulps down a glass of water offered to him in the house. “You see, land is not a problem in Bihar, as has been made out. When politicians ask industrialists to invest it the state, they are shaky, as they don’t know the situation. But, I am an industrialist with many contacts in the industry. If I tell them to come to Bihar, they will definitely listen to me,” Anil says.
“Bihar is my home. I was born and raised here (in Pandarak on the outskirts of Patna). I cannot forget my soil. It is time for me to give back to Bihar what it gave me,” he says as he whizzes past narrow lanes of the village, hands folded, in his Reebok shoes. Anil has already given some a breather when it comes to industry. His food processing business by the brand name of Mum’s opened a Rs 400-crore mega food park in Buxar district in February. Earlier, he had started a food-processing unit in Rajgir in 2002.
“Anil nahi yeh aandhi hai.. Jehanabad ka Gandhi hai,” his supporters shriek amid cries of “zindabad”. “Audyogic kranti laana hai, Anil Sharma ko jeetana hai (We’ve to usher in industrial revolution. We’ve to make Anil Sharma win),” another slogan rents the air.
However, Anil’s or Nitish’s industrialisation cry doesn’t hold water in the hinterland. “Yes, he was in our village minutes ago. Our village doesn’t have Bhumihars so he didn’t talk much. But he was talking about industries and factories. Why didn’t he talk about clean water, roads, drainage and sanitation? Our district doesn’t have any factories. He talked about giving jobs to each member of the family. But then our primary occupation is farming. We are farmers. I didn’t quite understand what he meant,” Maharshi Kumar, a resident of Masaar village, just 1km from Bishunpur, told The Telegraph.
Sources said Jehanabad was unfit for industrialisation. “The district’s drawback is its location, between Patna and Gaya. If only these cities expand industrially can Jehanabad see some industrial development. Moreover, the district is Maoist affected and has no raw materials to set up industry. It is just a transit point between two cities. So, the industrial dream cannot come true easily here. No one thinks in terms of industry here, most are engaged in farming. So, if Anil is singing the industry tune in Jehanabad, it is a bad idea,” a city-based industrialist told The Telegraph. The district, gravely divided between two castes, the Bhumihars and the Yadavs, also voices the same. “Most people here are small-time businessmen and farmers. We never really thought about setting up or working in a factory. If Anil’s motto is to develop industry, he is apparently fighting elections in the wrong district,” Satrughan Singh, who owns a betel shop in Jehanabad, told The Telegraph.
But Anil disagrees. “I am not here just to seek votes. I’ve seen the condition here during my tours and am accordingly planning the must-do things if elected. I will definitely set up four or five industries. Unemployment is a major problem here. People have land and they think it is enough. So they don’t do anything. If one person from each family works in the factories, it will be an added advantage,” Anil, who looked relaxed even in the scorching heat, said. As if to emphasise he knew what he was doing, he quipped: “See, I am a son of the soil and more energetic than you. I have been walking so much but am not tired.”
His ideas may not register but residents are drawn to his flashy golden wristwatch.
Pamphlets with smiling faces of Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav, and CPI leader A.B. Bardhan and the others are seen everywhere. There is also one bearing the picture of former Jehanabad MP Jagdish Sharma, disqualified after being convicted in a fodder scam case. While Anil’s supporters shout slogans for him, he suddenly starts shouting: “Jagdish Sharma zindabad, Jagdish Sharma zindabad,” and sternly gazes at his men, a hint that they should do the same when in Bishunpur. A resident sitting under a tree nearby explained: “That’s a trick. Jagdish Sharma is a popular leader here. Once he was disqualified, Nitish chose Anil for the seat and not Jagdish’s son Rahul Sharma. There’s a rumour that Jagdish is not very happy about this. So, Anil is trying to appease him. He is learning politics fast.”
As the group moves on, Anil notices some youth playing cards with some elderly people. “Don’t let them play cards. I will take all of them with me soon,” Anil tells the elderly.
l Jehanabad votes on April 17