For the Bihari migrants at the labour quarters in Sitaram Society in Navsari, the election was decided in April. Stuck for days during the lockdown without any money, 15 of them had reached out to their RJD MLA, Jitendra Kumar Rai from Mahaurah, says Ritesh Kumar Yadav.
Rai called up Tejashwi Yadav, now the Grand Alliance’s Chief Minister candidate, who in turn called up Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani, Ritesh says. Soon, Akram Shah, working in the office of BJP Navsari MP and now Gujarat BJP chief C R Paatil, reached Ritesh’s home with rations for a month. In May, Shah arranged for them to go home on a Shramik Special train.
Part of the ruling alliance in Bihar, the BJP in Surat has been trying to ensure the migrants who returned stay back there so as to vote — around 50 BJP volunteers have been given the task of making at least 100 calls a day to them. However, as per Ritesh, that may be backfiring on the party.
Of the migrant workers in Surat’s factories, nearly four lakh are from Bihar. During the lockdown, as food and money ran out, at least six incidents of violence involving migrants were reported in the city. The special trains headed for Bihar carried nearly three lakh migrants; about 30% are believed to have returned. Follow Bihar elections LIVE updates
A B.Tech in mechanical engineering, the 26-year-old Ritesh earns Rs 18,000 a month working as a supervisor at a factory. He rushed back to Surat when their contractor called them in June to say the factory had started running again. With no pay in April and May, and Rs 2,000 from the company to help them tide over the lockdown, Ritesh couldn’t say no.
Pointing out that they have to come to the other end of the country to make a living, Ritesh says, “In his three terms, Nitish has not provided any jobs.”
Hoping to get married soon, Ritesh talks of Tejashwi’s promise of jobs. “Time will show whether he delivers or not. In our village, everybody supports Tejashwi… He is young, energetic and is taking up issues of people against the government.”
Ajay Choudhary, who is associated with the textile industry and is a former BJP office-bearer, says he arranged for special trains to take workers home to Bihar. “Our volunteers call them on the phone regularly and tell them to return to Surat only after the Bihar elections.” However, he admits there is anger with the Nitish government over its initial advice to the migrants to stay where they were.
Prabhunath Yadav from Purnia district in Bihar, who is a union leader, says the workers want to return to Surat but there are not enough trains. He also attributes lack of jobs as the reason for disaffection with Nitish. “No recruitment as been done in government departments and no effort made to set up industries in Bihar,” Prabhunath, who came to Surat in the ’80s, says. Adding that migrants compare development in Surat with that back home, he says, “They feel heartbroken seeing the situation of Bihar.” Tejashwi holds a promise, he says.
Dilipkumar Chorasiya (32), who hails from Samastipur, left his wife and two young children back home when he returned to Surat after the lockdown. During the time the factory he works in was shut, his savings were used up. So, he now shares the one-room accommodation he bought with loans from a bank and friends, with five “tenants” instead of his family. “I spent Rs 2,000 to buy a rail ticket in the black market to return to Surat… Staying alone, I can save some money.”
About 7,000 migrants from Bihar live in similar one-room quarters in the area. As one enters Ved Road, the signboards change from Gujarati to Hindi, the clothes of the people on the streets are markedly different.
However, any signs of the heated contest back home are missing. Chorasiya says he finds no difference between Lalu Prasad and Nitish’s regimes. His father Dipak Kumar decides whom the family votes for and, this time, it may not be the BJP.
“The BJP has not given ticket to our community leader,” Chorasiya says. However, what is most important for youths is “development”, “government jobs” — and hence “the faith in Tejashwi” — he insists. “While his father is in jail, Tejashwi has been single-handedly running the party, everybody likes him.” He feels LJP chief Chirag Paswan is yet to prove himself, and has just taken up late father Ram Vilas Paswan’s mantle. “Even during the lockdown, he did not utter a word for people stuck in other states.”
Chorasiya’s dream is that his children — 10 and 7 — are able to get jobs in Bihar so that they can be close to their “own culture”.
Sudhir Singh, 40, from Vaishali district in Bihar, who runs a small shop selling knick-knacks in Ved Road area, also hopes the same for himself and his children, particularly at time of festivals like Chhath. His children study in the municipal school and his wife Aarti takes small work back home from local textile units.
However, the children don’t have any interest in Bihar, Singh says; they are impressed with “the wide roads, flyovers and gardens of Surat”. Every Sunday evening, the family goes for a ride on his bike. “The development of Surat is due to Gujarat’s good leaders. The political leaders in Bihar only think of their chair and image.” He calls Nitish’s term for them of “pravasi mazdoor” at the time of the migrant crisis an “insult”.
Backing Tejashwi, Singh argues that the RJD leader not having finished schooling is not a disqualification. “As CM of Bihar, Lalu could have managed to get a graduation certificate for him from any university. But he did not do any such thing.”
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