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Anger, frustration in Bihar's Buxar

Battles in Buxar, on the western fringes of the state, have always been hard-fought and climactic

By Dev Raj in Buxar
  • Published 17.05.19, 7:56 AM
  • Updated 17.05.19, 7:56 AM
  • 4 mins read
The primary health centre at Churamanpur in Buxar, which functions from a PACS paddy warehouse and remains mostly closed Picture by Sanjay Choudhary

1539: Mughal emperor Humayun routed in the Battle of Chausa against Afghan ruler Sher Shah in Buxar. Sher Shah went on to become emperor of the country.

1764: Forces of the East India Company defeated a combined army of Bengal nawab Mir Qasim, Awadh nawab Shuja-ud-Daula and Mughal emperor Shah Alam II in the Battle of Buxar, paving the way for British rule over India.

Battles in Buxar, on the western fringes of Bihar, have always been hard-fought and climactic. The people here have a general belief that whoever wins here goes on to rule the country.

Ashwini Kumar Choubey won the Lok Sabha seat in 2014 while his party, the BJP, won power at the Centre. His main opponent, Jagadanand Singh, is a veteran leader of the RJD. Singh had won from Buxar in 2009, when the UPA formed the government at the Centre for the second time in a row. He lost in 2014 to Choubey.

Buxar is part of the famed “rice bowl” (paddy producing region) of Bihar, and the Ganga is its lifeline. In the summer heat, the air is still — like the calm before a storm with armies waiting. Apart from an odd rally or two here and there, there are no significant pointers to the impending fight. But scratch the surface and anger, frustration, and the willingness to slug it out surface. There is a battle around the corner alright.

Ye yuddh hai yuddh. Modi mera ghar nahi banaya. Modi mera kirasan tel le liya. Meri biwi ko saap kata, usko haspatal mein injection nahi mila aur wo mar gayi. Aur ye Modi bolta hai ki desh banao. Kaise? (This is war. Modi did not make my house under Indira Awas Yojana, he took away the kerosene oil. My wife was bitten by a snake and died because the hospital here did not have anti-venom. And yet, Modi says build the nation. How?” says Sriram Singh Yadav, 38, a driver by profession and reeking of toddy in Chausa, not far from the historical battlefield.

Some distance from there, Mumtaz Ali, 28, a scrap-dealer, speaks softly, with a sense of resignation. His family was among the many displaced due to erosion by the Ganga and he lives on the embankment constructed along the river to protect Buxar from floods.

“I have to buy wheat flour at Rs 26 a kg and rice at Rs 40 a kg. I have to look after my parents, wife and two kids too. The public distribution system here is almost dysfunctional. Besides, I don’t have a ration card,” Ali says. “Big people tell me that there is no inflation during Narendra Modiji’s rule and the price of onion did not increase. But the truth is that the price of almost every other thing, even medicine, has gone up sharply and it’s becoming very difficult to survive. Please don’t take my words otherwise because I am a Muslim. There are so many Hindus facing similar problems.”

The plaque at the site where the Battle of Buxar was fought between the East India Company and the combined forces of Indian rulers
The plaque at the site where the Battle of Buxar was fought between the East India Company and the combined forces of Indian rulers Picture by Sanjay Choudhary

At Nainijor in Buxar, Suresh Pasi, a paan and chai shop owner, asserts that the elections will be fought over rampant unemployment. He narrates how he struggled for years to ensure education for his three sons and two daughters.

“My sons are graduates, and the daughters passed Intermediate (Plus Two) exams. None of them could land any permanent or contractual job because you have to give bribes everywhere. They all work as labourers on daily wages. People make fun of me for wasting a fortune on their education. I know I did the right thing, but we failed because the government did not arrange for factories and jobs,” Pasi says, the furrows on his forehead becoming deeper as he speaks.

Buxar is also one of the rare seats in Bihar where the general category castes — the “upper castes” — are in a majority with Brahmins and then Rajputs leading followed by Yadavs and other castes. Voting on caste lines or as directed by caste leaders is a reality here. Conversations inevitably veer round to how caste combinations will pan out.

Choubey, a Brahmin, polled 3.19 lakh votes in 2014 while Singh, a Rajput, bagged 1.87 lakh votes. Dadan Singh Yadav, who contested on a BSP ticket, got 1.85 lakh votes and Shyamlal Singh Kushwaha of the JDU won 1.17 lakh votes.

This time, Dadan and Shyamlal are in the NDA camp by dint of being JDU MLAs, and are asking their supporters to vote for Choubey. Singh is banking on the Yadav votes that went to Dadan in the last elections.

However, this time the caste equations seem to be in turmoil and Choubey, who would have sailed through, is himself the reason for it. The first glimpse of the turmoil comes at Churamanpur, where the upper castes are in large numbers.\

The Battle of Chausa memorial
The Battle of Chausa memorial Picture by Sanjay Choudhary

Saurav Mishra, a resident of Churamanpur, drags us to the government primary health sub-centre. It is housed in a warehouse of the primary agriculture credit society (PACS). Mishra points to the dangling locks on the sub-centre door.

“Choubey is the Union minister of state for health. Previously, he was the state health minister. Yet this health sub-centre seldom opens. The project to construct a separate building for it was passed seven years ago, but is yet to take off. Should the Brahmins vote for him?” Mishra says.

The upper castes are also peeved with Choubey over his love for his native Bhagalpur, where he lived and was an MLA from before being asked to contest from Buxar in 2014.

“Choubey won from Buxar. He had promised to get an AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) built here, but when the central government agreed to the proposal he got it shifted to Bhagalpur. He is an MP from here, but his heart beats there,” says Ramji Ojha of Dumraon.

Others say whatever be the deficiencies of Choubey, they will vote for him because they will vote for Modi.

Local BJP sources say Choubey, realising he was on a sticky wicket, sent an SOS to Modi to campaign in the constituency for him. Modi obliged, but shouts that the candidate (Choubey) from the constituency needs to be changed were also heard.