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Hit by lockdown, a call for change: from ‘chacha Nitish’ to ‘bhatijas’

During the lockdown, the Nitish government that initially urged migrants to stay put, arranged ration kits for them in Delhi and other cities, says Kaushlendra. However, not everyone had access to or knew of such services.

Mukesh Kumar (in dark blue) at electric-switch factory in Mangolpuri. (Photo by Tanushree Ghosh)

BIPIN PASWAN starts work at 9 am in the electric-switch factory where he works, and lives, with a dozen others. It’s one of the matchbox-like units lining the dirt lanes in Mangolpuri in Delhi’s North West district. A hoarding on one of the shop fronts announces “tatkal money transfers”. For every Rs 1,000 remitted back home, Rs 30 is charged, says Paswan, 26.

If he could go home to Begusarai’s Bachhwara, he would have voted for Chirag Paswan. “Not on caste. For once, I want to vote for a young leader to win,” he says. However, he has no plans of going this time; he didn’t go even during the lockdown as he had no money and feared losing his job if work restarted.

Read | Chirag fires another salvo, warns Nitish of jail over ‘corruption’


In the 2019 general election, he voted for “Modi’s party (BJP)”, Paswan says. “Everyone was voting for it, and so did I.”

Mukesh Kumar, 22, who belongs to Paswan’s village and works with him, spent Rs 2,500 to get home in April. He returned in September. “There are no jobs in the village. There are taps now, but no water,” says Kumar, who makes Rs 8,000-10,000 a month in Delhi.

He would have voted for the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav if his name was on the voter list. “When elections happen, I’m never there… I watch Tejashwi’s rallies on my phone,” he says.

“In April-May, we saw off around 25 lakh migrants on the 10-11 special trains between Delhi and Bihar,” says Kaushlendra Kumar Singh, an accountant in the office of the Joint Labour Commissioner at Delhi’s Bihar Bhawan.

As per a Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy survey, in May, unemployment in Delhi and Bihar was double the national average of 21.7% — 42.3% and 46%, respectively.

Explained | Bihar elections: What stands between Nitish Kumar and a possible fourth term?

Bakshi Amit Kumar Sinha, Assistant Professor at the Patna-based Centre for Economic Policy and Public Finance, Asian Development Research Institute, says the rush home at this time of the year is expected. “Workers generally return for Chhath Puja. The difference this time was, having lost their jobs, they did not have the 10-15% monthly expense they keep aside from money sent home.”

Manjay Paswan, 32, who has been working in Delhi for 16 years, says that despite working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, be has no savings. He voted for “Kanhaiya Kumar (CPI)” last year but is not going home this time. He is unaware of welfare schemes; though has “heard” that if his name is struck off the voters’ list, he will be deprived of benefits, such as Bihar’s pension scheme for those over 60.

During the lockdown, the Nitish government that initially urged migrants to stay put, arranged ration kits for them in Delhi and other cities, says Kaushlendra. However, not everyone had access to or knew of such services.

The 10 kg ration Mohammad Salahuddin got was provided by civil society groups. The labourers’ ration cards are registered back home. For the last 12 days, the 55-year-old has been visiting the Labour Chowk in Rani Bagh, near Mangolpuri, hoping to find work. But he plans to go home to Sitanabad in Saharsa to vote on November 7 — for Nitish Kumar. “He got us roads, hospitals.”

Pitambar Sharma, 48, a Bihar migrant belonging to the Badhai (carpenter) community, lives in Sangam Vihar, one of the largest unauthorised colonies in the country. Sharma came to Delhi with his father back in the 1980s, when just a child and, over the years, has gone through a string of jobs. Still, moving back home to Bhaur Hanuman Nagar in Madhubani with his three children is not an option, he says. “We would end up taking a loan at 10% interest against land,” he says.

A Delhi voter now, Sharma says trips home show him the work Nitish has done, including roads that have cut the Madhubani-Patna journey to half. However, Sharma’s village still lacks a dispensary while the nearest hospital is 20 km away. If he could, he would vote for Tejashwi or Chirag, he says. “Chachaji ko 15 saal avsar diya, ab bhatijon ki baari. Boodhe bail se kab tak kheti karwayenge (Gave uncle Nitish 15 years, now it’s the turn of nephews. How long can one make an old bull toil)?”

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