In village of midday meal deaths, Nitish retains support
There is one thing common to Raju Sah, Akhilanand Mishra, Baliram Mishra, Balli Mahto, Shankar Thakur and Surendra Rai. They lost a child each in the July 2013 midday meal school tragedy, in which 23 died after eating food contaminated by poison. That grief has united this village, dismantling the caste factor ahead of the May 7 vote.
The sitting MP from the seat that includes Gandaman, Maharajganj, is the RJD’s Prabhunath Singh. Standing in front of the Gandaman community hall from where the local primary school ran, the parents say they are angry with him.
“Nitish Kumar and the BJP are at least talking about Gandaman but the RJD MP has never discussed it except coming here after the tragedy,” says Sah. His six-year-old son Krishna Kumar was among those who died; his daughter Laxmi, 9, had skipped the school meal that day. Now she goes to the village middle school but doesn’t eat there.
Nitish and the JD(U) have the backing of the other parents too, though Prabhunath Singh may still win on the basis of the constituency’s caste combination of Muslim, Yadav and Rajput votes. While they have heard of the “Narendra Modi wave”, Gandaman villagers say it’s only through newspapers.
The BJP’s candidate is Janardhan Singh Sigriwal while the JD(U) has fielded Dhumal Singh. All three have campaigned nearby but none came to visit the aggrieved families. The village has about 1,200 Mahadalit votes, as well as EBC, Yadav and Gonda tribal voters.
Satendra Ram, whose son Rahul was cremated in front of the old school building, says: “Political parties cannot understand our grief. The investigation is not going anywhere and we don’t know if there was a conspiracy to kill our children.” Says Sah: “It took the death of our children to get this village on Bihar’s map. Now we have a primary school, an aanganwadi centre, an additional primary healthcare centre and an upcoming high school and approach roads.” Even the community hall is being renovated as part of Nitish’s plan to make it a model village.
Surendra Rai sees this as a sign that the chief minister cares, though he wishes Nitish had also met them. “He has given 29 tubewells to the village and Rs 2 lakh compensation to each victim’s family. Our support is for him,” says Rai, whose daughter Mamata died in the tragedy.
Akhilanand Mishra is harsher. “Maybe Nitish can’t meet us in the eye because he couldn’t keep the promise of a speedy trial. Lalu doesn’t continued…