Monday, 30th October 2017

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Empty words in legend's forgotten village

Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aaati Hai (Vacate the throne, for the people are coming). When Jayprakash Narayan gave that clarion call during the Emergency, addressing a hundred thousand people in Patna, he was reciting Ramdhari Singh Dinkar's seminal poem.

By Ramashankar in Begusarai
  • Published 10.10.15
(Clockwise from top) The library named after rashtrakavi Ramdhari Singh Dinkar at Simaria village, 
the poet’s ancestral house and the entrance to the premises. Pictures by Ramashankar  

Singhasan Khaali Karo Ke Janata Aaati Hai (Vacate the throne, for the people are coming). When Jayprakash Narayan gave that clarion call during the Emergency, addressing a hundred thousand people in Patna, he was reciting Ramdhari Singh Dinkar's seminal poem.

JP was not the only leader to draw inspiration from Dinkar; his fans have included everyone from Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Narendra Modi, L.K. Advani to Shivraj Patil. The rashtrakavi (national poet)'s portrait adorns the Central Hall of Parliament.

But the approach to the great poet's village, Simaria, about 15km northwest of Begusarai town, reminds you of the worst clichés about Bihar's roads. There are no degree colleges, and students have to walk 3-4 km to nearby Bihat village for higher studies. The high school named after Dinkar doesn't have sufficient classrooms or teachers. A girls' school, opened by the poet, is also in a dilapidated condition. There is a primary health centre but doctors seldom visit it.

"I had persuaded the local MP (Bhola Singh of the BJP) to adopt Simaria under the Prime Minister's model village scheme and he agreed. But even after months, nothing has happened," rued Rajendra Rai, a resident.

Some people run a library named after Dinkar. "Politicians and bureaucrats come here on the occasion of anniversaries (birth and death), make announcements, and then forget all about it. Bindeshwari Pathak of Sulabh International had donated Rs 15 lakh for the local school," said Ram Lakhan Singh, another resident.

Simaria has had electricity for over four decades. The village of about 10,000 people gets power for 12-14 hours a day. But Dinkar's nephew Naresh Prasad Singh can't read with even a 20-watt CFL bulb, the voltage is so low. The wires that carry power to Simaria have not been replaced for decades. Residents say half a dozen lives have been lost in mishaps in the recent past. Almost every house here has refrigerators, fans and other electronic gadgets. But mostly they serve as showpieces.

Naresh (74), a former newsreader with All India Radio, Delhi, said he has tried repeatedly to draw the authorities' attention to Simaria, "but no official is ready to listen to our complaints. They are not only arrogant but also least interested."

For the polls, politicians have made a beeline to the village to woo the residents, mostly belonging to the dominant Bhumihar caste.

A group of people was browsing through newspapers at the Dinkar library when this reporter visited the village on October 2. Rahul Kumar (22), said: "Is bar parivartan hona hai (this time change is inevitable). Aam log Nitishji ke is faisle se khush nahi hai (Nobody is happy with Nitish's decision)." Others nodded in agreement.

The voters' anger over non-completion of projects - such as revival of the Barauni fertiliser plant, expansion of the Barauni oil refinery, setting up of an engineering college and a petrochemical plant - was palpable in Begusarai town. "Be it Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu Prasad or Nitish Kumar, they all promised to do something for the development of the district, which has produced sons of the soil like Dinkar and great historian R.S. Sharma. What happened to their promises," asked Diwakar Kumar, who runs a dhaba on the Begusarai-Khagaria road.

Simaria is part of Teghra Assembly constituency in Begusarai district, where the BJP's Ram Lakhan Singh is fighting the RJD's Virendra Kumar, who is former advocate-general Ram Balak Mahto's son. The BJP denied a ticket to the sitting MLA, Lallan Kumar.

At places like Rachiyahi, part of the Matihani Assembly constituency from where 10 candidates are in the fray, Prime Minister Modi's development plank has run into Bihar's caste wall.

Rachiyahi had recorded the first instance of booth capturing, in 1957. The booth still exists at Kachahari Tola. "It's true, booth capturing started from here. Begusarai even gave the state its mafia culture. But that is now history," said octogenarian Maheshwar Mahto. "Development is not an issue. Only caste matters and people will vote on caste lines."

People at Simaria Ghat, where the government organised the Ardhakumbha Mela with much fanfare in 2011, said the Grand Alliance has an edge in areas that were earlier a Left bastion. The Left parties have fielded candidates against both NDA and Grand Alliance candidates at some places.

All that remains of Dinkar's anger - he had said he was a bad Gandhian because he supported young people's angst with the system, is a shloka from the Gita, inscribed on the wall at the nearby Mokama railway junction: "Nyayarth Apne Bandhu Se Bhi Yudh Karna Dharma Hai (It's dharma to fight one's own kin if it is for the sake of justice.)"

• Bachchwara, Teghra, Matihani, Sahebpur Kamal, Begusarai and Bakhri vote on Oct. 12