“Aap toh Bihar se hain, aap bataaiye…,” goes the routine line. If you are from Bihar, and also a journalist you are expected to put things into “perspective.” Who will win is what people want to know.
But do reporters really have the ability to predict things? Let’s not talk about exit polls and pre-poll surveys. Political reporters do have the advantage of being in touch with the netas and observing their activity. They also interact with the electorate. But does that actually help gauge the mood? I don’t think so. Maybe to some extent. Maybe the exercises empower one to be part of political discussions on TV shows or write the so-called analytical pieces.
A month and a half ago, when I was going through the process of hiring a house in Noida, the landlord, Ajay Devan, a retired Army colonel, sought to know: “How do you see things unfold in Bihar?” While going for a dinner with travel writer Shalini Mitra, the lady looked curious too. “Will Lalu manage to get back to power? I mean, I would not like him to, but who stands a better chance?”
There are a whole lot of people who catch hold of you with: “Aap toh patrakar hain, aap bataaiye…” And I am always clueless.
I think burdened by reports and capsules of allegations and counter-allegations and bhashanbaaji, people look fatigued and want some clarity or at least freshness. I certainly do. What is written is often routinely boring. Delhi accuses Bihar of misusing central funds. Bihar hits back, blames Centre for state’s mess. Some are distributing cycles. Others pick goats!
Last year, I was in Agra for a launch. During the same time, the Samajwadi Party was holding its national convention in the city of Taj. A dear friend was there to cover the event for his paper. He had been put up in a very good hotel. He made it a point to let me know how he was enjoying costly – he never made any mention of the taste of it -- food and beverages. There was a whole lot of activity – big leaders, an army of reporters from across the state, banners, hoardings. The city was packed. And I was a sufferer. Despite efforts, I could not get any space in any of the hotels.
They were full with party delegates and journalists. I had by the way high expectations from my friend. His report the next day began with “Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav said Mayawati was responsible for Uttar Pradesh’s backwardness and urged the people to bring SP back to power…”
Coming back to Mitra and Devan, elections in Bihar are peculiar. The watchers say it’s a battle between Lalu (who ruined the state during his 15-year rule) and Nitish (who at least began the process of checking the rot before the actual rebuilding can take place). So it’s the development card. Till 2005, I lived all my life in that state. And after Nitish came to power (I was then at IIMC and I still remember the ToI headline – WATERLALOO), I have been there quite often. I can sense the improved law and order situation, the improvement in infrastructure. I’m not sure about the employment claims though.
What has not changed though is the caste factor – a major cause for the backwardness of Bihar. And this could spoil hopes of Nitish trying to translate his claims of good governance into political success. In 1990, when Lalu became CM, he virtually created a separate electorate referred to as MY: Muslims and Yadavs. Development took a backseat. Crime went up. And it happened on purpose.
Now, things are improving but people, especially in not-so-urban pockets, still look conscious of who they are going to choose. No wonder, Nitish too has been playing his caste card. I fear a sizeable chunk of backward Bihar may get back to being more backward, swayed by caste considerations. I’m equally intrigued by the fact that Congress had RJD as its ally at the centre for so long and now Manmohan and Sonia are citing the “20-year” misrule to woo the electorate.
My first encounter with elections took place in 2005. I was in Govindganj (East Champaran) to cover Bihar assembly polls. Bhojpuri artist Manoj Tiwari had by then became a famous TV face. He, while appearing on various poll-related shows, appealed to the people of the state to desist from voting for aspirants having criminal background. But he also campaigned for the then incarcerated MLA and LJP nominee from Govindganj seat, Rajan Tiwari.
Rajan was seeking reelection from the Beur jail. Suresh Sahni, the RJD candidate who was defeated by him (Rajan) in the 2000 assembly polls, left Govindganj and contested Motihari seat this year on LJP ticket! Locals said Suresh was terrorized into contesting the Motihari seat to damage the poll prospect of RJD nominee Rama Devi, as Sahnis constituted a vast chunk of voters there.
I happened to talk to Manoj. He said, “Rajanji is not a criminal.” However, he also added: “I do not say Rajanji has a clean image either. But then who does have a clean image in today’s politics? “Help Ramvilasji become the next CM of Bihar and rid the state of the RJD misrule.” Rajan lost the elections and today the “promising” party and the “bad” party are together to fight a force which was not in the reckoning then. Locals said Manoj was campaigning owing to the terror tactics employed by the sitting legislature. Manoj said he agreed to seek votes for Rajan due to the ‘very special relationship’ he had with him, while refusing to explain the same.
Closer home, the reality was even bitter. A college student then, I was working for Hindustan Times as its Buxar correspondent. I mostly operated from my hometown Dumraon. The results were shocking for me. In Dumraon assembly segment, then state Samajwadi Party president Dadan Yadav defeated independent candidate Anuradha Devi by a substantial margin of over 9,000 votes. Anuradha, incidentally, is the wife of heavyweight leader Munna Tiwary. But what really shocked me was the fact that the CPI fared badly with veteran communist leader Nagendra Nath Ojha, known as ‘Vikash Purush’ among locals for the kind of development work he did as Rajya Sabha MP, suffering a humiliating defeat. Ojha, contrary to all expectations, was relegated to fourth position.
Somewhere deep down in my heart, I was terribly sad. Though I, while borrowing from contemporary election coverage, had written a report (campaign trail) that it remained to be seen if the work done by the communist leader, who led an astonishingly simple life, would actually translate into electoral success!
Ojha had actually done a lot of work for Dumraon. And people generally respected him a lot. But that’s how elections work.
I vividly remember interviewing Dadan, who rose to the stature of a state politician from being a wrestler and a school teacher employing all kinds of tactics, at the Buxar collectorate soon after the results were announced. He said he was always assured of a massive win and termed his victory a slap on the faces of those trying to divide the society on caste lines. “I won despite the fact that I could do just a little bit of campaigning in my constituency as the police implicated me in false cases on the eve of elections at the behest of Lalu Yadav. He was earlier with Lalu. Later he parted ways with Mulayam.
FIRST REAL ELECTIONS ASSIGNMENT
During my stint at Lucknow HT, I covered the Lok Sabha elections. It was a very enriching experience. But the first real elections assignment happened in 2007. My editor in Patna asked me to go and cover the UP assembly elections. I noticed politics in Bhadohi contributed more to crime and corruption than the words famous carpet industry it was known for. No wonder, the industry, in which lakhs of people are involved, was in a shambles.
The moment I entered the Ghazipur belt, I began thinking about Mukhtar Ansari and Brijesh Singh. I had been hearing about these two ganglords since my childhood. In the twin cities of Ghazipur and Mau, only ‘power’ ensured power. And absolute power did it absolutely! The town received power 22 hours a day ever since mafia don-turned politician Mokhtar Ansari’s elder brother Afjal Ansari won the Ghazipur Lok Sabha seat in 2004.
As one enters Gangauli, a nondescript hamlet, situated on Kasimabad-Mohammadabad road, some 25 km from Ghazipur, and roams about, there is hardly anything that would suggest that the village is the birthplace of Dr Rahi Masoom Reza, one of the finest writers the country has ever produced. About half the population in the village is muslim (mostly Sunnis) and almost all of them are weavers. Reza’s house in the ‘dakkhin patti’ of the village collapsed long time back and it has now lost its existence. Both his Mardana and Janana imambadas, which is under the care of his distant relative, Saiyad Abdur Hussain, are also on the verge of collapse and being used for community purposes. The ‘nimbars’ in his house on which clerics would recite religious books during the ‘mazlis’, is lying abandoned. The ‘palki’, then used by women for visiting the ‘uttar patti’ and supposed to be the ‘aakhri nishani’ of his family has been left to the mercy of weather.
To woo the electorate, contestants were employing novel methods. While some were trying to satiate their taste buds by organising ‘bati-chhokha’ party with ‘noorie-laila’ (country liquor) flowing in abundance, others were offering some music to their ears by holding ‘birha’ and ‘chaita’ shows. Hard pressed for time a sizeable number of desperate aspirants could be seen going all out to satisfy voters’ prurience. For the purpose, they were roping in bar girls, ‘nauch’ girls. Even male dancers were a hit!