Mohammad Shoaib Sheikh from Muzaffarpur runs a small garment factory in Surti Society in Ahmedabad, working nearly 12 hours a day. Every evening, he checks his WhatsApp groups at least once for an update on local politics back home.
Hailing from Khanpur Hathodi village, the 32-year-old has a clear favourite — Leader of the Opposition and RJD scion Tejashwi Yadav. “He picked my phone during the lockdown when I was stuck with 45 of my workers in Ramol for two months with no money. Which other leader would personally attend to migrant workers?”
While Sheikh is not going back home to vote, with his factory just starting to get work post-lockdown, he says, “I have at least 100 confirmed voters for the RJD from my extended family… The party is coming to power this time. They deserve a chance after 15 years of so-called sushasan (good governance) of Nitish Kumar.” In the 2015 Assembly elections, the RJD’s Surendra Kumar had defeated his BJP rival to win the Aurai seat under which Sheikh’s village falls.
Mohammad Naseer, whose Ladora village is not far from Sheikh’s, however, says his family’s vote is for Nitish. “My village has a pucca road now and good electricity supply.”
Sheikh, Naseer and others here from Bihar say the fact that the JD(U) has tied up with the BJP doesn’t matter in their choice. Politics in Bihar, they say, is influenced more by persona than ideology since the days of Lalu Prasad.
Ahmedabad city has a considerable Bihari migrant population, living in compact one-room houses next to garment, welding, fabrication work and printing industries, working in 10-hour shifts. While there are no official figures, an estimated one lakh Bihari migrants, temporary and permanent, are settled in the city. During the lockdown, approximately 72,000 left for Bihar on special trains run by the Western Railway. Now, they are slowly returning back.
Politics is the subject of all discussions during the breaks from work. Often, the Sushant Singh Rajput case, with all its political dimensions, comes up. There is near unanimity that it won’t matter in the way Bihar votes.
“Former Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey reaped political benefits out of the Sushant case (he took voluntary retirement to join the JD-U), and has now been denied a ticket. Even someone like Manoj Tiwari can get a ticket in Delhi but not in Bihar as he has to prove his worth there,” asserts Brajesh Kumar Rai (28), who works at a welding factory in Bacchu Bhai ka Kuan, Vatva.
Referred to as “mini Bihar” due to its large migrant population, Bachchu Bhai Ka Kuan has shops carrying hoardings in Hindi rather than Gujarati. “There are over 5,000 houses here with every one of them rented out to migrant workers,” says Inderdev Prasad, who came here from Nalanda back in the 1980s and is now a landlord himself.
While Nalanda might be Nitish’s home district, for the youth here, the contest this time is between Lalu’s younger son Tejashwi and the late Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag. Amit Kumar, 31, who came to Gujarat 14 years ago from Nalanda, and is a worker at a fabrication industry, says, “Chirag has done a lot of work in my area and now we get 20 hours of electricity. However, there is still a lot to be done for education and jobs.”
Jobs rank high for all youths as to what they expect from a Bihar government. “In my village, children as young as 14 are ready to leave their homes as there is no work. We have been staying in Ahmedabad for 12 years. Ghar mein na school hai na college aur na aspatal, koi vyavastha hi nahin hai (Back home there is no school, college or hospital, there is nothing),” says Mohammad Shahid, 21, from Muzaffarpur, who stays in Surti Society.
Chandrashekhar Kumar (28), a fabrication industry worker from Siwan, says, “We don’t even visit our village during Chhath as that would mean travel expenses and loss of earnings. There is nothing left to go back to.”
BJP local MLA Jagdish Panchal says the party ensured “our brothers and sisters from UP and Bihar faced no difficulty during lockdown. Not only did we provide them food and water, we made sure they reached home, bought them tickets”.
However, unlike Sheikh, most have only bitter memories of the time, and hence no desire to go back to vote. “For one month, I kept dialling numbers of parties in Bihar for help… Going back just to vote is a big effort and I don’t think any party is worth it,” says Ganesh Paswan, 45, of Munger, who works in a chemical factory in Changodar.
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