Traffic zips along the four lanes of the Golden Quadrilateral stretch from Dhobhi to Sherghati in Gaya. From Sherghati, the shiny State Highway-69 leads to Imamganj, site of battle between between former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi and assembly Speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary, four-time MLA.
Barely motorable not long ago, the 26-km journey to Imamganj is smooth today. During Nitish Kumar’s second term, SH-69 saw repair as part of a number of road and bridge projects in in Naxal-hit areas.
Twenty km off the GQ comes the village of Baghdharwa, meaning Lion Catcher, where a milestone reads Imamganj 8 km. Six kilometres more and the metalled road ends, 2 km before Imamganj town. A bridge over the river Sorhar river has been under construction for almost three years. It is nearly complete but little has progressed for a year.
An Imamganj resident gave his verdict. “Is baar Choudharyji jaayenge. This road doesn’t look like part of a Speaker’s seat. We have had enough of him taking us for granted.”
In Imamganj market, the crowd had dispersed after a rally by Manjhi when a car moved in amid chants of “Nitish Kumar zindabad”. Choudhary sat inside, hands folded and smiling. Sunil Dangi, a shopkeeper, said, “Dangis traditionally vote for Nitish but Manjhi has created confusion. Every party is working on caste but development too is important. Choudhary has not delivered.”
Vinod Kumar, a graduate, said his Dumaria village is not properly linked to the district headquarters. “If Choudhary has not been able to give roads in Nitish’s time, how can we expect him to deliver now? Manjhi is talking of his closeness to the PM. It means Manjhi can become a Union minister…”
Fellow villager Santosh said the 26 km from Dumaria to Imamganj takes two hours. “Youth like us will not fall into the caste trap. Nitish may not be facing anti-incumbency, Choudhary is. Manjhi alone can defeat him.”
Umesh Bharti of Imamganj said there had been drastic improvement in power supply but roads begin only across the Sorhar.
Choudhary said road projects would be completed by the next government. He recounted several development schemes at different stages of construction. Manjhi, on the other hand, told his rally, “Elect me and I will tell you about development and roads.”