The new battles of Buxar

Whoever wins Buxar rules Hindustan," Shyam Bihari Singh (68), a retired police sub-inspector, says with a grin and twinkling eyes.

By Dev Raj in Buxar
  • Published 27.10.15
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The site of the Battle of Chausa where Sher Shah defeated Humayun

Whoever wins Buxar rules Hindustan," Shyam Bihari Singh (68), a retired police sub-inspector, says with a grin and twinkling eyes.

He is right. The district has seen two battles that changed India's history. The first was fought in 1539 between Sher Shah and Humayun in Chausa, at the confluence of the Ganga and Karamnasa rivers, about 18km southwest of Buxar town. Humayun was routed and fled by swimming across the Ganga with the help of a local, Nizam Bhisti. Sher Shah went on to become the emperor.

And in the Battle of Buxar of 1764, the British East India Company led by Hector Munro vanquished a combined army of the Nawab of Bengal Mir Qasim, Nawab of Awadh Shuja-ud-daula and Mughal emperor Shah Alam II, paving the way for British rule over India.

Shyam Bihari, a resident of Mishrawalia village, points out that the BJP won the Buxar Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 general elections, and went on to form government at the Centre.

Right now, the retired policeman says, Buxar is witnessing two simultaneous battles: one in which candidates and parties are fighting to rule the state, and in the other farmers, distressed due to drought-like conditions, are fighting for their livelihood and lives.

Known as part of Bihar's "rice bowl", paddy crop spread across the 1,624sqkm district is wilting due to deficient rainfall. Lack of irrigation facilities has made it worse.

This season, the farmers may not be able to recover even their input costs, including money spent on seeds and fertilisers. The diesel subsidy provided to them is either elusive, or insufficient.

Landless labourers too are finding it increasingly difficult to find work on farms.

"The production is going to be so low here that landowners are hiring very few hands. The result is that we are not getting food grain in barter for our labour. I am now forced to buy rice from market," says Kanahiya Prajapati (50), an agriculture labourer.

Ruins of the old memorial of the Battle of Buxar built by the British
The crumbling memorial of the battle at Kathkauli village. Pictures by Dev Raj

Asked about the condition of agriculture and farmers, Buxar district magistrate Raman Kumar says it is okay. He is busy with election related work so will not be able to talk more on it, he adds.

Surprisingly, the farmers are also not venting their ire at the present government.

"There is no fault of the government in this. There has never been a government like that of Nitish Kumar in Bihar. See this road," says Ram Nava Singh (36), pointing to the Buxar-Chausa road running through his village. He touches his knees, and adds: "It was full of ditches this deep, but now it's first class. Even our village lanes are now of concrete. New schools and hospital have been built."

Shyam Bihari, whose village is under Buxar Assembly constituency, one of the four in the district, argues that the NDA government at the Centre has not done anything substantial for the poor, while in the Grand Alliance, RJD chief Lalu Prasad gave voice to the poor and JDU leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar has brought development for all. The Congress, which has ruled the country for so long, is also with the alliance, he adds.

The battle for Buxar Assembly constituency is primarily between Congress candidate Munna Tiwary and Pradeep Dubey of the BJP, who got a ticket instead of sitting MLA and former minister Sukhda Pandey.

Some miles away, in Brahmpur constituency, retired railway official Kamlapati Chaubey says Nitish wanted to do a lot, but could not. He quotes a Bhojpuri saying, which, roughly translated, means: "How can one person prevail over 100 butchers."

Vivek Thakur, son of BJP vice-president and former Union minister C.P. Thakur, is contesting from Brahmpur. He got the ticket in place of sitting MLA from his party Dilmani Devi, daughter-in-law of BJP leader and former Gujarat governor Kailashpati Mishra. The RJD has fielded Shambu Yadav, while four-time MLA Ajit Kumar Chaudhary of the JDU has turned rebel and become a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate, making the contest a triangular one and shoring up the BJP's chances.

Dumraon constituency is witnessing a direct contest between strongman and two-time MLA Dadan Yadav on the JDU ticket and RSLP candidate Ram Bihari Singh on behalf of NDA, while the Rajpur (SC) seat is witnessing a fight between Santosh Kumar Nirala of the JDU and the BJP's Vishwanath Ram.

Ram has made a mark among the voters as a "very polite person" and claims the support of all castes.

As Buxar battles for its future, the past wallows in neglect. While the excavations started at Chausa by the Bihar department of archaeology has been stopped for over an year now, the new memorial for the Battle of Buxar - at Kathkauli village, around 3km southeast of Buxar town - is crumbling; the earlier one built by the British is in ruins.

Deepak Yadav, a young man from Chausa village, says only one leader - chief minister Nitish Kumar - has bothered to visit the site of the fort and the battle there.

"He came right here and then walked with us to the site. We were so happy. The big thing is that electricity supply improved vastly after his visit here. But some mischievous element threw a stone at him and his security officials whisked him away. We still feel ashamed at the incident," Deepak adds.

As the battle for Buxar peaks and parties vie with each other to grab the four seats, Ekram Singh Yadav, a farmer from Mishrawalia, pleads: "So many big leaders are coming here to seek votes. Please tell anybody to get the government tubewell at our village repaired. It has been not working since the last two years. It has the capacity to irrigate around 200 acres. If repaired, it will at least provide us hope for the upcoming rabi season."

As Ekram continues to speak, other villagers gathered around him nod in agreement. Just then, with blaring loudspeakers a political party's campaign vehicle passes by and his words are lost in the din.

Buxar district votes on October 28