It was the mid-’80s when Ganga Prasad Thakur (55), a resident of Jaypatti village, district Darbhanga, came to Ludhiana, the city with the largest migrant population in Punjab, in search of work. Thakur was 19 and got work in one of the city’s many industrial units. Now, he owns a jewellery shop and a medical store, is the president of the ‘Bihar Goldsmith Samiti’ that has about 1,700 members, and his son, who has done a pharmacy course, is planning to open a nursing home back in Bihar.
It has been more than three decades since he left, but, for Thakur, Jaypatti remains home. “Every time there are Vidhan Sabha or Lok Sabha elections, I go and vote. This time, elections in Darbhanga are on November 3, and not only I but 400-500 others from here will go to vote.”
Thakur and the members of his Samiti belong to the Sunar (goldsmith) community in Bihar. “In Ludhiana we are doing different works, but we have formed the samiti to remain in touch. Most of us are doing well here, we have houses, our children are getting a good education. We enjoy a quality of life that we could not have got in Bihar. We would still be marginal farmers there.”
Thakur is well-versed with the issues back home, and hence the plans for a nursing home. “Jaypatti has a hospital where doctors hardly come, people travel 30 km to Darbhanga for medical help.” His six-bigha land in the village is looked after by his brother.
Thakur hopes his son will settle in Jaypatti once the nursing home is up and running. “He is a pharmacist, we can appoint doctors.” Several among the migrant population in Ludhiana have returned after turning around their lives, to open industries or start other ventures back home.
Also going to vote in the elections in Bihar are Anil Jha, 48, and Bhola Jha, 40. Anil came to Ludhiana two decades ago, works in a factory as well as runs a small hosiery unit. Bhola has a unit making polybags. “There are many formalities to getting voter cards made in Ludhiana, and then we will have to get our name deducted in Bihar. But our heart lies in Bihar,” says Bhola.
No one can live on freebies from the government alone, Bhola adds. “We can perhaps survive just sitting at our home in Bihar. But, we cannot grow. To have a better life, we move out. If Bihar starts giving us those opportunities, what is the need to do so?”
Mohd Ghulam, Chairman of the ‘Punjab Parvasi Cell’ who is also originally from Bihar, says, “Punjab has 70 lakh migrants from outside, of whom not less than 30 lakh are from Bihar. A large chunk continues to vote in Bihar.”
A member of the Congress, Ghulam says the party will soon start canvassing in Ludhiana for votes. Bipin Gupta, president of the RJD in Ludhiana district, says, “Fifteen of our youngsters have gone to different districts of Bihar like Bhagalpur Vaishali, Muzaffarpur to campaign.” The Congress and RJD are part of the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar.
Gupta says the RJD will highlight problems with NDA schemes such as the Swachh Bharat and Bihar’s Nal-Jal Yojana. “There are big scams… I think there will be a change in Bihar this time.”
However, Thakur remains a supporter of Nitish Kumar. “During the lockdown, more than 3 lakh migrants returned to Bihar, many on foot. Initially, people were angry, but in Bihar, they got rations on a regular basis.” He lists other benefits, including free LPG and money under the PM-Kisan scheme. “Because of this, one has forgotten the pain of walking on foot,” Thakur smiles.
Shambhu Singh is among the migrants who moved back to Bihar after living in Ludhiana for 15 years, and has been trying his luck in politics in both states. This time, he says, he “gave up the idea of contesting” and is seeking votes for the JD(U). Singh doesn’t expect many to return to vote though, having just joined work back after the lockdown.
T R Mishra, the chairman of a federation of Ludhiana’s dyeing units which employ over 40,000 migrants, has relatives in Bihar. He says candidates contesting in Bihar often come to campaign among migrants in the city, and this time the BJP is said to have lined up some virtual rallies. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Mishra had gone to campaign for the BJP’s Giriraj Singh, who won from the Begusarai seat and is now a Union minister of state. “I may go this time as well to campaign for Begusarai candidates,” Mishra says.
He adds that he will back good candidates who can help change the image of Bihar. “We feel bad when people say criminals contest polls there.”
Thakur agrees. “When it comes to Bihar, the image that comes to mind is of a poor labourer in soiled clothes. But a number of us have worked very hard, and are doing well. We want people to change their picture of Bihar.”
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