The Telegraph
Tuesday , May 6 , 2014
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Ujiarpur grapples with new caste equations

- Delimitation changes constituency’s constitution, not its share of problems
A BJP supporter in Ujiarpur during a rally of Narendra Modi. Picture by Sanjay Choudhury

Ujiarpur is in search of an identity. And so are candidates in the fray here. Ditto for the hundreds living on the embankment of the Ganga near Rampur Patasia village.

Born after delimitation in 2009, Ujiarpur graduated from an Assembly perch to a Lok Sabha constituency. Its caste composition also underwent a change. The Yadav dominance suddenly diminished, as Koeri-Kurmis and other castes consolidated their position. Not surprisingly, candidates too were pitched on the basis of new caste equations.

Bouwelal Paswan (80), a resident of Rampur Patasia village around 70 km south of the district headquarters town of Samastipur, is reluctant to vote. “Votwa debe se ee bar bhi kuch na hotayee. Hamar log ke sudhi lebe wala koi na haiyee (There is no point voting this time either. There is none to take care of us),” rued Paswan, who was displaced from his native village 25 years ago due to soil erosion in the Ganga. The village of around 500 still lacks basic amenities. Residents lack proper toilets, hand pumps or approach roads. Women have to wait till after sunset to attend to the call of nature. Electricity is a far cry.

Hamar log ke jindagi narak hayee (we are virtually living in hell),” said Etwari Devi, an octogenarian who has to feed a family of four. Etwari said residents have not received the benefit of Indira Awaas Yojana despite being displaced from their ancestral homes decades ago. The scheme’s proposal of houses for 174 families is yet to see light of day. “Apna ghar ka sapna, sapna hi rah jayega (Residents’ hope of having their own house will remain a distant dream),” she lamented.

Ironically, no candidate has ever bothered to visit Ujiarpur, dominated by people from extremely backward castes and OBCs. Away from the cacophony of elections, residents are waiting for a messiah who will address their grievances. Most residents said candidates visit those people who have a say in the present political set-up. “We don’t figure anywhere given the caste equations,” Bouwelal said. At Manika village in the Sarairanjan Assembly segment, there is widespread admiration for the condition of roads. Residents credit the Nitish Kumar government for this. They also vouch for improved law and order, as evidence of which Keshav Jha, a resident, pointed at some schoolgirls returning home after school on bicycles. Brahmins dominate the village having a population of over 10,000. “It’s a fact that development work has taken place under the Nitish government. But his party doesn’t figure in the national political scene. So we will vote for the BJP,” Jha said.

Nineteen candidates are in the fray. The BJP has fielded Hajipur’s sitting MLA Nityanand Rai, a Yadav. The RJD has fielded former MP Alok Mehta, who won the seat in 2004 but lost to first-time MP Ashwamedh Devi in 2009 by over 25,000 votes.

Mehta, a Koeri and son of veteran leader Ajit Kumar Mehta, is banking on Muslim-Yadav votes. There are around 2 lakh Koeri voters followed by around 1.8 lakh Yadav voters. There are a sizeable number of Brahmins and Bhumihars too. The JD(U) has fielded sitting MP Ashwamedh Devi, widow of veteran leader, late Pradip Mahto. She too is a Koeri. The CPM has fielded Ramdev Verma.

The caste considerations are so strong that even a strong leader like the BJP’s Rai was told in the Yadav stronghold of Dhamaun: “Aap hamare jati ke neta hain. Lekin hamara neta to Lalu Yadav hain (You are a leader of our caste. But our leader is Lalu Yadav.” They also took a dig at Rai for marrying a girl from another caste (Rai’s wife is a Kurmi).

Dhamaun residents, too, attested to Nitish’s good performance. “Nitish babu to kaam jarur kiye hain. Lekin votwa to jaat par hi padega (Nitish had done a lot of work. But votes will be cast on caste equations only),” said Ram Pukar Rai, a local RJD leader. He claimed the Yadavs would vote for Lalu and no one else.

Swaraj Singh, a diehard Congress worker, however, said he would vote for the BJP this time. Ved Prakash Arya of Desua village said they would vote for a change at the Centre. “If we have given the Congress 10 years to rule at the Centre, what’s the harm in giving five years to the BJP,” he asked.

The Muslims would, expectedly, vote for the RJD-Congress alliance. “If Muslim votes consolidate in favour of the RJD, the Yadavs too would follow. The perception of RJD looking winnable is helping this consolidation,” said Sahpur Patodi resident Mohammad Aslam. Asked why his electoral choice is based on caste considerations, he said, “Log mar jate hain, lekin jaat nahi jaati hai, (People die but their caste doesn’t).”

Ujiarpur consists of six Assembly segments — Patepur, Morwa, Sarairanjan, Ujiarpur, Mohiuddin Nagar and Bibhutipur. With campaigning coming to an end on Monday, Ujiarpur is set to witness a direct fight between the BJP and the RJD. However, the JD(U)’s Ashwamedh Devi is trying hard to make it a triangular contest.

l Ujiarpur votes on May 7

Name: D.P. Singh

Age: 70

Place: Retired bank employee How has life changed? Distances are becoming shorter, thanks to the cellphone. It saves time and is quite cost-effective. The gadget keeps me updated about my bank account details, LPG number and other facilities in both public and private sectors Joy Sengupta