The home is two hundred metres away from the primary school in Jamgaon village, which beginning 8 am on Tuesday had become the polling station for the village. There are 604 voters in Jamgaon, in the middle of a forested patch of Mahasamund district. Nearly every single one of those voters will have walked past the home on their way to the primary. And as they passed it on Tuesday, many thought back to 24th June 2017 when 55-year-old farmer Hiradhar Nishad consumed pesticide that he had bought to tend his fields, and committed suicide. In Jamgaon, that home on Tuesday stood as a symbol of what the second phase of this election has become, and the mood of Chhattisgarh’s farmers that will sway it. As one villager said, “Farming is our life. If that becomes difficult what else can we do? The government has done many good things, but there is discussion on whether this term it has done enough. Every time we look at Hira’s home, it makes us think.”
The entrance to Nishad’s home where his two brothers, their wives, his widow, and his daughter Daleshwari now live is a door barely four foot high. Right next to the door is a faded sign, painted over by a coat of whitewash which says “MNREGA”. Inside there is a hut with two rooms made of mud, but on another side is a two-room cement structure built more recently under the Pradhanmantri Awaas Yojana, unoccupied but complete. In one corner is a toilet built under the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, its ceiling damaged, but used by the family. It is these contrasting aspects that have long been the cause of debate in Jamgaon. But it is also a debate that has tired, and enraged a family that still mourns the loss of a family member.
The family wants no pictures of the home or its inhabitants taken. Hiradhar’s family and one of his sisters in law were in the home on Tuesday morning at 9 am but wanted “outsiders” to leave before her mother Mantori Bai returns from the fields. For it brings back memories of a day when even her fathers reasons for suicide seemed to be up for debate. “We told everyone he was worried because of loans he had to give back to moneylenders and the banks. He was worried by electricity bills that had come to 3000 rupees and two thousand rupees in the last two months. And then one day, he couldn’t take it anymore. But the officials said that was not the reason. Who are we to argue with them but won’t his family know? I don’t want to argue anymore, ” a family member said.
The day after Nishad died, a bevy of politicians and government officials came to the village. The district administration declared that Nishad was regular in paying his loans and had no outstanding electricity dues, and therefore while he was one of the farmers that committed suicide between 2015 and 2017, he was not one of the 19 the government has deemed killed themselves because of a “debt burden”. In an answer to the Vidhan Sabha in December 2017, Home Minister Ram Sewak Paikra said that 1344 farmers had committed suicide between the middle of 2015 and October 2017, but only 19 were because of a “debt burden”.
Rameshwar Nishad, a local BJP supporter from the village pointed to “kaam” that has happened in the Nishad home. “They have 6.5 acres of land which was given to them under the forest rights act. They have a toilet now which they use, and a home under the Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana. There may be many reasons he committed suicide. There was no note. But the lives of farmers have become better,” he said.
But around him, there are other opinions. Of whether the homes, and the toilets are “upri upri” changes, and the core is the finances that surround a farmer of paddy. “Whether he gave money to the bank on time or not, he will have worried. All of us do. He would have taken money from the seth, and that no government document will find. When the electricity bill came, he told his family he was upset. These are all real things, and it only is solved if our money problems go away,” said Sohan Sahu.
Which is why, the Congress declaration of a loan waiver in their manifesto, and a 2500 rupee price for paddy, and a halving of electricity bills have become the centre of conversations. The BJP supporters in the village argue that the Congress has not lived up to its promises in the past, and by and large it is Raman Singh that looks after their well being as much as possible. “Even he is not God. He is only human. He is doing all he can for us,” one says. But there are others that after three terms of a BJP government, are willing to give the Congress a chance, because of their promises.” Raman said he would give bonus for five years but didn’t. The Congress says they will waive our loans and give us 2500. If they don’t live up to their promises, both will be the same no? What is the harm in trying once?” another argues.
Even as lines began forming a little after 8 am in Jamgaon, surrounded by pristine forests, there were other factors that were seeking an influence on the ballot. Namely money and alcohol. Villagers told the Indian Express that money had been distributed freely over the last two days, and even as some men stood in line, they swayed slightly, the inebriation of the night still in effect. But even as they did, from the corner of their eye, and between the trees in the primary school, they will have seen the white home of Hiradhar Nishad in the distance. And the arguments around his death, that are the heart of this election.
71.93% turnout recorded
A total of 72 seats went to polls in Chhattisgarh in the last and final phase on Tuesday, with the EC announcing 71.93 per cent voting in these seats at last count. This is, however, expected to rise, with Chief Election Officer Subrat Sahu saying there were some polling booths where people were still in queue, and others where numbers were being tabulated.
The Congress submitted a memorandum to CEC in Delhi regarding a BJP candidate allegedly distributing cash to voters and EVMs found in Chirmiri. These incidents, the Congress wrote, “point to insidious attempts on part of certain individuals to infiltrate and influence the outcome” of the polls. ENS