Patna, Dec. 7: The recent panchayat bypoll in Bihar passed off without any 'untoward incident'. But a close look at the way the election was held in Manjhaul panchayat of Begusarai district reveals the rot in the politics of local bodies.
Mahatma Gandhi's companion during his stay at Wardha, Ram Khelavan Shastri, was full of enthusiasm on the morning of November 25. The 89-year-old freedom fighter, along with other residents of Manjhaul, had hoped to put an end to the legacy of Dilip Singh, a former headman.
A criminal who faced several charges, Singh was killed in Patna a couple of months ago in a police encounter. This time, his father Ramashish Singh was there to contest the election.
Shastri walked to a polling booth, not knowing that he would not be able to exercise his franchise. On reaching the booth, Shastri was stunned to see that his name was not on the electoral rolls. The reason: he was a 'dead' man.
Soon, his 32-year-old grandson Pushpraj Kumar, who stays in a slum here, found out that all eight members of the family were declared dead and their names deleted from the electoral rolls.
'At least 200 people were not allowed to exercise their franchise in our panchayat. Whatever the reason, it smells of a dirty game played by someone,' Kumar, a cultural activist and freelance journalist, said.
Soon, it became clear that Ramashish, a Bhumihar, was the only serious candidate. The others withdrew their names as they realised that it was 'futile' to take on the mighty Bhumihars.
'The politics of Begusarai revolves around caste. This single upper caste controls everything here. No political party can ignore this group,' he added.
As expected, Ramashish won by a huge margin to become the headman.
With the right to vote denied, Kumar approached the district magistrate, Sandip Poundrick, and prayed that his family be allowed to vote. 'All of us have the valid identity cards issued by the Election Commission. We also voted in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year,' Kumar told Poundrick.
'The district magistrate told me that our names must have been removed by mistake when the electoral rolls were revised after the Lok Sabha elections. He did not do anything for us,' Kumar told The Telegraph.
'I asked him to stop the counting process till the mistake was rectified. We are alive and want to live with dignity in a democracy. But he feigned helplessness,' he added.
However, Poundrick said he was not in a position to help Kumar. 'I couldn't help him because I am not empowered to take any step in violation of the final electoral rolls on the polling day.'
Kumar believes that the names were deleted at the behest of Singh and his family. 'I have been opposing his terror tactics and oppression of the weaker sections through poems, street plays and public speeches,' he said, alleging that
Dilip's brother Deepak Singh has threatened to teach those who oppose the Bhumihar family a 'lesson'.
Kumar then approached the state Election Commission, praying for action on the district magistrate for his alleged failure to intervene in the matter. But he did not find any taker for his appeal there too.
Kumar feels that the villagers do not want to fight for their rights. Worse, his grandfather too does not want him to pursue the matter for fear of reprisal. While the Begusarai district administration has claimed that there were no irregularities in the election, Kumar has refused to give up and could even move the high court to seek justice.