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Bihar’s pride is neighbour’s envy

Author: Maulshree Seth
Publication:  The Indian Express
Date: February 10, 2012
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/bihars-pride-is-neighbours-envy/910171/0
Four years ago, villagers of Maldeopur in Ballia were sold a dream. A 1,047km, eight-lane Ganga Expressway would give them fast connectivity to Delhi and all the cities and towns on the way.

Today, the district does not have even good internal roads, although it had elected MLAs of the ruling BSP in six of the then eight Assembly seats, with the Samajwadi Party winning the remaining two.

As for the Ganga Expressway, its inaugural plaque stands on what the locals call an “imported teela” — “imported” because it had been unveiled in Lucknow by Chief Minister Mayawati on January 15, 2008, before it was transported and installed here; “teela” because it is on a mound.

Across the Bihar border, which is 35km away, Buxar district has outpaced Ballia. Whenever Maldeopur’s villagers go there shopping or to meet relatives, what strikes them is the excellent roads and the beautiful ghats on the Ganga.

“Earlier, when marriage proposals came from the other side, we used to look down on them as there was no development there. Today, they come to us with pride, while we remain the same as we were ages ago,” says Kamlesh Singh, who runs a bicycle repair shop in Maldeopur.

Raju Gupta, who runs a dhaba on the road that leads to the border, has seen the change as it happened. “This place gave rise to a revolutionary like Jai Prakash Narayan and a prime minister like Chandra Shekhar. We elected his son Neeraj to Parliament. But what did we get? Try going to Ibrahimpatti (Chandra Shekhar’s village), or Sitab Diara (JP’s village), you would not know if roads ever existed in those parts,” Gupta says.

“There are plenty of foundation stones, though.”

Some villagers keep dreaming about the Expressway and the way it will change their area, which has no industry and mainly survives on agriculture. “Achhi road hone se sab badal jayega,” says Kamlesh.

They seem not to know that developer Jaypee Group has withdrawn its security deposit from the project. But they did sense something was wrong when, about a year ago, policemen stopped protecting the plaque. The policemen had been deployed following protests against proposals to acquire land for the project.

Even if they don’t know of the withdrawal, the change in Buxar has made people realise that they have been let down by politicians. They are disenchanted particularly with the ruling BSP. Bijli, sadak, pani haven’t improved over the last five years, they say.

The BSP has not fielded any of its six sitting MLAs, though four of them are back in the fray as Independents or candidates of other parties. Manju Singh and Ghoora Ram, MLAs from Ballia City and Rasra, are the Independents who are contesting again. In Bansdih, sitting MLA Bansdih Shivshankar is now the JD(U) candidate; in Baira (a new seat), MLA of Doaba (a seat gone after delimitation) Subhash Yadav is now the Congress candidate.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar campaigned in Ballia for JD(U) candidates, but his party is barely present here. The BJP, the JD(U)’s alliance partner in Bihar but a rival in Uttar Pradesh, is better recognised but few look at it as an alternative.

Apart from the BSP, SP, Congress and BJP candidates in all seats (seven this time), several smaller parties are in the fray.

Among the Samajwadi Party’s candidates is its chief whip in the Assembly, Ambika Chaudhary, a four-time MLA who is contesting from Phephana, which used to be Kopachit before delimitation.

Says Narendra Das, a Dalit who takes land on lease for cultivation to make a living, “People will vote for candidates of their own caste, or those who they think can benefit them individually.”

Chhote Lal, also a Dalit, will vote for the BSP, “not because they have done any development in the area — even a blind man can sense the conditions here — but because under BSP rule, we lived without fear these past five years.”

“People want change and they are looking for options,” says Avnish Tiwari, a teacher in a government primary school in Phephna. “They have to choose from who are available. Parties like the Bharatiya Samaj Party of Om Prakash Rajbhar and the Qaumi Ekta Dal of Afzal Ansari are also options for some.”
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