Hours before innumerable migrant Bihari women will wade through floating heaps of trash at the banks of the Yamuna to offer prayers to the setting sun on Chhat, political parties in the national capital rose in fierce defence of the ordeal that these women are set to face.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal timed the beginning of regular ‘aarti’ on the banks of the river on the lines of those held on the banks of Ganga, just five days prior to the festival. He promised to clean the river before Chhat and followed up his promise with spot inspections on Monday. The Congress, which from three consecutive terms in power was wiped out of the state legislative assembly earlier this year and does not even make for the Opposition today, raised the pitch against Kejriwal’s ‘poor preparedness’ and went as far to accuse him of being ‘too proud’ to ask the Haryana government to release fresh water into the river. The BJP government at the Centre, put their best foot forward at the capital’s two railway stations with maximum Bihar-bound trains, New Delhi and Anand Vihar, and turned them virtually into mini-celebration points with huge LED television screens belting out Bhojpuri numbers and movies.
No points for guessing that the growing obsession of political parties with Chhat is simply to woo a formidable vote bank. The bigger question is why these parties have come out with a vengeance to champion the Bihari migrant’s cause over the past few years.
In the 2007 polls to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, BJP for the first time realized the power of the Poorvanchalis. The party fielded more than 25 Poorvanchali candidates and registered a landslide victory. It was a lesson in psephology for all political parties in the national capital. In the following parliamentary elections Congress fielded poorvanchali leader Mahabal Mishra, who won from West Delhi, a seat with as many Poorvanchali voters as Punjabis.
The AAP, which was born out of the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement in 2011 and 2012, was backed by the harrowed Poorvanchali diaspora, who as migrants had long suffered at the hands of corrupt officials. Struggling to get their paperwork in place, stumbling to acquire driving licenses, passports, ration cards, gas connection, an electricity bill as a tenant, she turned to the luring promise of rooting out corruption. By the time the AAP fought its first election in December 2013, it knew it had to have at least one poorvanchali candidate. Ajit Jha fielded from Burari defeated his poorvanchali BJP counterpart but the AAP government thus formed barely managed to sustain itself with a poor notch in the state assembly.
In its second innings, the party fielded 10 candidates, all winning hands down and the party registered a record 67 out of 70 seat-victory. Even after the elections were behind them, the party handpicked Dilip Pandey, a Poorvanchali for its Delhi convenor, chose Bandana Kumari as the deputy speaker and appointed Kapil Mishra and Gopal Rai as ministers in Kejriwal’s cabinet.
Eight months after the polls, the AAP government revived its Maithili-Bhojpuri Academy to organize an event that was attended by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, where all the poorvanchali MLAs were felicitated and a poll pitch was raised for Nitish’s upcoming battle in Bihar.
Though the poorvanchali votebank is tipped to be not more than 25 percent, it is a community that the political parties are fiercely eyeing. Whether or not the devout offer their prayers in peace at the banks of the Yamuna on Tuesday, the political parties will be ill at ease till the opportunity has been well-seized.