Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Battle of Two Dynasts and Factors at Play in Paswan Bastion of Samastipur

Voters in the constituency of the Mithila region are talking about employment, inflation, migration and closure of industries.
Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Battle of Two Dynasts and Factors at Play in Paswan Bastion of Samastipur

Samastipur (Bihar): The sleepy town of Samastipur has suddenly begun drawing interest as the son and the daughter of two Bihar ministers are competing against one another. The seat in the Mithila region of the state is reserved for scheduled castes.

While Sunny Hazari is the son of Information and Public Relations Minister Maheswar Hazari, Shambhavi Kunal Choudhary is the daughter of Rural Works Minister Ashok Choudhary.

Shambhavi, 25, who is being called as the youngest candidate in the country, is contesting on a Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) ticket, while 33-year-old Sunny is the Congress candidate.

This parliamentary election marks the debut for both candidates.

Samastipur district, which has a population of 42 lakh, of which 38 lakh are Hindus, suffers from economic backwardness and is assisted by the Backward Regions Grant Fund Program.

The BJP’s catchphrase of “abki baar, 400 paar” (this time, cross the 400-seat mark)” seems to have not gone down well with voters.

“Whosoever forms the government, but the Opposition must be strong as it is very important for democracy. And therefore, if my wife votes for the Congress, I will go with the BJP and vice versa,” Mukesh Kumar, an elderly man in his late 70s, who resides in the Jitwarpur area, told The Mooknayak.

People’s Issues Take Centre Stage

Issues such as unemployment, rising inflation, migration, deindustrialisation and of course caste dominate the election discourse here, with every second person, if asked about elections, talks about it.

Shambhu, who runs an eatery where people belonging to below middle class and labourers generally visit to have meals, complained against skyrocketing prices and rising unemployment.

“Earlier, I used to sell food per plate for Rs 25-30, then there was some savings, but now I cannot save anything even with the current pricing of Rs 50-60 per plate,” he said.

The man in his mid 40s was of the view that there should be a change in the government as the youth are unemployed.

Amidst the boiling tea at a shop, this reporter took the discussion forward.

Desh bahut bura sthiti mein chal raha hai. Modiji desh ko bech rahe hain aur humlog kharid rahe hain (The country is faced with a crisis. Modi ji is selling the country, and we are purchasing it,” alleged the shop owner, who loves to be referred as Gandhi.

Asked to elaborate, he said, “Be it airports, public sector units (PSUs) or railways, Modi is selling everything to big corporates. It is we who are bearing the brunt of hiking prices.”

Asked about his candidate preferences, he said, “Hum logon ka button to daba hi hua hai (our votes are already decided). Modi ji should better pack his bags.”

Taking sips of sattu (gram flour) drink near the main bus stop of the town, a government servant seemed unhappy over the freebie culture.

“The government is giving free ration on taxpayers’ money just to get votes of the socially marginalized people. The government, which is seeking votes in the name of free ration, must answer who made these people so helpless that they cannot even buy eatables. Why didn’t you (the government) give them employment in the past 10 years to make them self-reliant?” he asked.

He said though the government talks about “one nation, one election” and “one nation, one law”, it does not dare to come up with the idea of “one nation, one taxation”. 

“While buying a vehicle, we pay so many taxes. And when we drive it on the road, we have to pay a toll tax. Why these dual taxation in a country, which invokes ‘one’ in everything?” he angrily asked.

One of his senior colleagues, who is about to retire in the next two years, had no hesitation in admitting that he is not going to vote for the BJP.

“The party, which is in neck-deep corruption, is jailing Opposition leaders on the allegation of financial frauds. Isn’t it funny? The electoral bond saga is now an open secret. But neither the incumbents will ever come clean on it nor the media will ask them tough questions in this regard,” he added.

Lack of employment opportunities fuelled by closure of industries in the district is another major poll issue.

Factory lagega Gujarat men, aur labour jayega yahan se. Yahan ka log wahan ja kar 12-18 hazar men kaam karega. Pure rajya ko labour factory bana kar rakh diya hai (The entire state has been turned into a hub of labourers. Bihar sends labourers to work in factories in Gujarat for Rs 12,000-18,000 per month),” said a furious young man at a crowded point near the bridge on Gandak river.

Hamen badlaw chahiye, hamen rozgar chahiye (We need change, we need jobs),” declared the other.

The only industrial facility in Samastipur, the Rameshwar Jute Mill at Muktapur in Kalyanpur Assembly segment, has been struggling to survive in absence of government assistance. Before the mill reopened in 2020, it had been closed for more than three years over wage disputes between the company and the employees.

Established by the Raj Darbhanga Raj (Khandwala family) in 1926 on 84 acres of land, Maharaja Kameshwara Singh ran it until 1954. The Birla Gwalior Limited then assumed its control as an amalgamation and managed and operated it until 1976. In 1986, it sold the mill to Winsome International Limited, a company owned by former Congress Coal Minister Santosh Kumar Bagrodia who then sold it to West Bengali industrialist Binod Nath Jha — the current owner of the facility.

“Although it is the sole operational industrial facility in the area, the government does not provide it any assistance. We consume 10,000 units of electricity every day, yet we receive no subsidies for it. We barely utilize 25 acres of our 55 acres of land for jute production,” said Abhishek Sharma, the mill’s commercial manager.

Through the Jute Corporation of India (JCI), the mill receives orders from various states. Its present production capacity is 30 tons per day, with an annual turnover of Rs 80 crore. The bread and butter of around 2,000 families depend on it.

“Given our potential to generate up to 80 tonnes, we would have employed more people. However, we rarely receive any help from the government. In addition to other states, Bangladesh also produces the jute that comes to us for production of sacks. The local MP and MLA have done nothing for us, despite the fact that we have the only facility of this kind in the entire Lok Sabha. In fact, instead of helping us, speeches delivered by political leaders during elections cause conflict between the management and employees,” he remarked.

The district had a sugar mill, but it closed in 1997 under the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) government. Even after over 26 years, the mill’s expansive campus, spanning over 20 acres of land, remains unoccupied. Perhaps a reflection of the region’s lost industrial potential is a signboard on the abandoned mill that says, “Bihar Sugar Corporation Limited — Samastipur Unit; established in 1917.”

The mill became operational in 1921 and began producing 8,000 quintals of sugar per day. Over 2,000 people were employed here, and it benefited close to 10,000 farmers.

“Winsome International Ltd. has now been granted a 60-year lease on this site by the government. See what happens,” said Amarnath Singh, who used to serve the sugar mill as a fitter.

The voters also lament that no attempt has been made to revive the Thakur Paper Mill in Jitwarpur. The mill was closed in 1979. They want their candidates to bring it back to its past glory.

Burhi Gandak river flows through Samastipur district, which is often referred to as the gateway to the Mithilanchal region. It is an agricultural area, which produces cereals, pulses and vegetables.

“Everything is abundant in this region, with the exception of employment prospects. People in large numbers migrate from here in pursuit of employment. No matter who is elected to the position of MP, everyone conveniently ignores this reality. Since both contenders this time are young, we will see how the winner performs,” said Bhushan, a resident of Magardahi area.

When asked about unemployment and closure of factories, Shambhavi told The Mooknayak, “My first priority would be the revival of closed industries, bringing in more industries and creating job opportunities.”

While Sunny too claimed the same, it remains to be seen who will be given the chance to represent this parliamentary constituency, which was formerly represented by Janata Party leader Karpoori Thakur — an iconic socialist.

The Center recently awarded the legendary leader of the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) with the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

However, some claimed caste factor is also at play.

Yahan jaati-paati chal raha hai. Sab mane man hai. Prince ji aaye to yahan kuch nahin kiye, dekhle baat hai. RJD ka bhi shashan dekhe hue hain. Yahan koi viklap hi nahin hai isliye Modi ji ko vote karenge (Though people are not very vocal about it, yet caste is also playing its role. They are keeping it to themselves. We elected Prince Raj, but he did nothing. We have also experienced the RJD government. Since there is no alternative, we will vote for Modi ji),” said Ram Balak Paswan at Narainpur Dariah village.

Those accompanying him nodded their heads in agreement, saying, “There are no ifs and buts. There is a clear Modi wave.”

A paan (betel leaf) shop in the city also claimed, “Caste is playing a crucial role here.” 

Vikas Singh agreed but said the fight here is between Ram (symbolically referring to “upper” caste) and Parshuram (socially backwards). “And in this razor sharp battle, haath chaap (election symbol of the Congress) will win,” he said.

He was interrupted by a grey-haired man, with vermilion on his forehead. “Only Ram will prevail,” he added.

Samastipur has 3.90 lakh Kushwaha (OBC), 2.5 lakh Paswans (Mahadalits), 2.25 lakh Yadav (OBC) and a seizable chunk of Muslim voters, who constitute 12.6% of the total population here. “Upper” castes too have a significant presence (16%), while 19.5% percent of the district’s population belongs to scheduled castes.

The seat was first represented by former Union Minister and Congress leader late Satya Narayan Sinha, who occupied the seat till 1967. Prince Raj, the son of late Ram Chandra Paswan, the younger brother of late Ram Vilas Paswan, presently represents the constituency in the Lok Sabha.

Spanning parts of East Champaran and Darbhanga districts, Samastipur parliamentary constituency has six Assembly segments — Rosera (SC), Samastipur, Warisnagar, Kalyanpur (SC), Hayaghat and Kusheshwar Asthan (SC).

This seat was claimed by the LJP, an ally of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which also comprises the BJP and the JD(U), in 2014 as well as in 2019. The Paswan family has controlled it. Ram Chandra Paswan won, defeating Dr Ashok Kumar of the Congress party in both the 2019 and 2014 elections. After his demise in 2019, his son Prince Raj clinched victory in the bypoll.

Manjay Lal of JD (U) and Alok Kumar Mehta of the RJD won the constituency in 1999 and 2004, respectively, before delimitation. Hazari occupied it in 2009.

Local Vs Outsider

Shambhavi, a postgraduate student at the Delhi School of Economics and a graduate of Lady Shri Ram College, has been in trouble because a number of LJP (Ram Vilas) leaders resigned as her candidacy was announced.

She is also frequently accused of being a “helicopter” candidate, which is another euphemism for “outsider”.

She is not from Samastipur district, but as soon as her candidacy was revealed, she “permanently” moved to the district, as claimed by her supporters.

A major factor in the JD(U)’s decline from 71 assembly seats in 2015 to 43 seats in 2020 was Chirag Paswan. The JD(U) is said to have avenged it by causing a split in the LJP in 2021, with Chirag and his uncle Pashupati Paras leading the two factions. Party President and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is said to be instrumental in this divide.

Even though Chirag is a member of the NDA, there is still resentment between the local JD(U) workers and the LJP. Sambhavi has additional complexity because of the anti-incumbency against Prince Raj, who belongs to the Paras faction.

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