The Telegraph
Tuesday , April 8 , 2014
CIMA Gallary

In rugged south, social hills dare Modi caravan

The Brahmyoni hills in Gaya. Picture by Suman

The Brahmyoni, Pretsheela and Murli hills seem to tell a story about which way the wind is blowing along the Patna-Gaya-Aurangabad stretch.

Think for once that the winds represent the Narendra Modi “wave” and the hills will suddenly look like social walls built by the veteran warriors Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar in the hinterland.

Though at war with each other, the two Bihar leaders are bound by a common goal — to defeat the BJP for survival. But whether their social and caste engineering will help them hold on to their bastions is still to be seen in an election being fought around the individual charisma of one man, Narendra Modi.

Ek vote bhi Modi ko aur ek note bhi Modi ko (A note and a vote for Narendra Modi),” says 65-year-old red tika-sporting Shyamnandan Singh as assertively as the summer westerly wind blowing through the huts, houses, and settlements along the Belaganj, Gaya, Dobhi, Aurangabad stretch in south Bihar. As if to complement his statement, a campaign vehicle blaring “Har har Modi, Ghar ghar Modi” — a slogan the BJP has, of late, been detaching itself from for fear of inviting the wrath of Shiva devotees — speeds past the highway dotted with rugged and rough fields on either side.

But just 10 steps ahead, at a small hut selling samosa and tea, around 20 people engrossed in a discussion on poll prospects of candidates in Gaya had a different take.

The crowd consisted of people from two villages on either side of the road — Muslim-dominated Panchmahala and extremely backward class (EBC) majority Lalganj. The shop belonged to Chandu Singh, an EBC.

Nitish ne kaam to achha kiya hai. Koi shikayat nahin hai. Lekin is baar vote Lalu ko dengein kyonki Modi ko rokna hai (Nitish has done good work, there is no complaint against him. But we will vote for Lalu this time, as we have to stop Narendra Modi),” says Mohammad Ejaz, wearing a lungi and vest to beat the heat. “Ejaz bhai theek kah rahe hain (Ejaz is right),” concurs Azad.

Most Muslims in the group seemed semi-literate, poor and backward and feared a “danger” should Modi seize power. They were calculating how to defeat him in the region — known the world over for its first apostle of peace, Gautam Buddha.

The EBCs shared the Muslims’ aversion for Modi but preferred chief minister Nitish Kumar as the man to take on him. “Jab Nitish ne kaam kiya hai to mazdoori unhi ko milna chahiye (When Nitish has done the work, he is entitled to the wage too),” Chandu, the chai and samosa shop-owner argued while serving tea to Ejaz and the others.

He was almost counselling them to change their vote.

But the Muslims were counting on Yadavs in the villages beyond Panchmahala and Lalganj in Belaganj block — home to powerful RJD leader Surendra Yadav — as the “solid vote base” to effectively upset the BJP’s applecart. “Yadav sab Lalu ko vote de raha hai, agar hamara vote yadavon me milega to Modi cheet ho jayega (Yadavs are voting for Lalu. If we too vote for Lalu, Modi will fall flat),” says Mohammad Sarwar while urging Chandu to vote for the RJD this time since “Modi ko harana hai (Modi has to be defeated)”.

Akin to the roadblock Shyamnandan’s assertion of “Har har Modi, Ghar ghar Modi” encountered at Chandu’s shop, the summer westerly too is facing obstructions in the Brahmyoni, Pretsheela and Murli hills on the Patna-Gaya-Aurangabad stretch.

Ek saath jeena bhi yahin hai, marna bhi yahin... khet khalihan mein saath saath kaam karma hai. Kis baat ka jhagra karna? (We have to live and die here together, we have to work together in the fields. On what issue should we fight with each other?)” asks Anwar, almost breaking into a mellifluous poem.

Shyamnandan, who sounded fascinated by the chant of “Har har Modi, Ghar ghar Modi,” too joined the milieu. The villagers were divided on their preference — for Modi, Lalu or Nitish — but the divide was not on communal lines.

Muslim-dominated Panchmahala and EBC-strong Lalganj on two sides of the road in Gaya and upper caste Bhumihar-majority Babubigaha and Yadav-prominent Belganj in the neighbouring north and south are virtually a microcosm of society, its political behaviour and thought process in south Bihar’s plateau region encompassing Gaya, Nawada, Jamui and Aurangabad — four of the six Lok Sabha seats going to polls on April 10.

Key players whose fate is to be decided on April 10 include Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar (Sasaram), former Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar (Aurangabad) and Chirag Paswan (Jamui), the son of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan.

But voters are largely talking in terms of big pictures — Modi, Lalu, Nitish — than confining themselves to candidates.

Sasaram, Karakat, Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada and Jamui vote on April 10