The 78 Assembly seats of north-east Bihar which go to polls in the third phase on November 7 are situated in three flood-prone belts– Kosi, Mithilanchal and Seemanchal. To understand the politics one needs to fathom the demography and geography of the entire region.
Hundreds of rivers and rivulets, almost all of them originating from the highland of Nepal criss-cross this entire north-eastern half of Bihar. Apart from perennial problem of flood and waterlogging these three regions are the main supplier of work-force to the entire India and even abroad.
Massive infrastructure development in the entire belt– for which credit should also go to the successive railway ministers from Bihar Ram Vilas Paswan, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav–has instead of attracting investment facilitated the migration of labourers.
So after the sudden imposition of lockdown on March 24 it is this part of the country which saw the highest number of migrants returning to their respective homes. The construction of East-West Corridor (which passes through entire North-Bihar), originating from Porbandar and ending in Manipur, further boosted the movement of people.
The migration from this region in the last quarter century had somewhat positive impact on the economy of all the three industrially-starved belts.
But the lockdown had reversed the situation politically, socially and economically. Seven months later people are finding themselves thrown back to the past. While the opposition Grand Alliance has got in the lockdown and subsequent development an opportunity to corner the government, the NDA leaders are obviously trying to sweep under the carpet all such burning issues.
Though the entire region has fertile plain land it faces the problem of over-irrigation–thanks to the devastating river Kosi, also called the Sorrow of Bihar. The last time it was in 2008 when it showed its full fury killing thousands of people and cattle. Besides, the region witnesses over 1,300 mm of rain every year.
Though since Independence, the region has seen construction works yet Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar in an international seminar in Patna in February 2017 called for the destruction of one such symbol of development. He demanded the demolition of Farakka Barrage in neighbouring West Bengal as, according to him, it is the cause of flooding in the entire north Bihar.
Whether this is possible or not several experts hold Farakka Barrage responsible for the rise in river-bed of Ganga, Kosi and all the rivers. They are of the view that these rivers need proper desilting.
The three belts, which are going to poll, have distinctive demographic pattern. While Mithilanchal has a sizeable mixed Muslim and Yadav population; besides it has substantial number of Maithali Brahmins, Bhumihar, Karna Kayastha, Koeris, EBCs and Dalits.
To its east is the Kosi belt, considered as the land of Yadavs. “What Rome is for Pope, Madhepura is for Gopes (Yadavs),” goes the saying. Madhepura is the native place of former chief minister B P Mandal of the Mandal Commission report. Besides, it has substantial Rajput, Koeri, EBCs and Dalit population. Muslims are not so high in number.
Further east is Seemanchal belt which has a big chunk of Muslim population. In contrast the number of Yadavs here is not very strong. However, this belt has good number of EBCs and Dalits.
In the entire bordering districts with Nepal there are Marwari population which settled in the late 19th century after the establishment of rail links. Among the Extremely Backward Castes boatmen and fishermen also known as Mallah, Sahni, Nishad, Gangota etc. form a sizeable population in the entire riverine region.
As Muslims and Yadavs form good population it is natural for the outfits like AIMIM and Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party to flex their muscles in these three belts. Pappu has in fact joined hands with another Muslim outfit, the Kerala based Social Democratic Party of India. AIMIM on the other hand formed an alliance with the RLSP and BSP–essentially Koeri and Dalit-based parties respectively. They are all considered as spoilers and many political observers suspect them to be playing into the hands of vested interest groups.
( Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna)