Poll boom in barren diara as exiles return to vote
The Times of India News Service
RANGLALAHI (West Champaran): For a change, human beings outnumbered cattle heads in villages such as this in the vast Gandak diara in West Champaran, adjoining the Kusinagar district of Uttar Pradesh.
Forced to live in exile for over two decades in various UP towns the non-resident villagers drove, pedalled or trekked back to their villages on Friday to vote in the panchayat polls being held after 23 years.
But not Rajesh Singh, Ranglalahi's most prominent citizen. Bahujan Samaj Party MLA from Dhanaha, he has a house here. But he also has a house at Padrauna"where he spends most of his time when he is not attending the assembly session in Patna", said a villager.
Uday Pratap Singh, the MLA's co-villager and co-exile at Padrauna told The Times of India, "We shifted base due to the free reign of the criminals in the diara." He added, "We are not secure here." Rogi Mian, of Jolahapatti village in Madhubani panchayat nearby has been living at Khirkhia in UP "out of fear". A petty shopkeeper of Madhubani, Khajanchi Sah, moved out after sustaining pellet injuries in an attack by the diara ganglords.
A little away from the Tamkuhi-Padrauna highway, this correspondent ran into two tractor-trailer loads of women making their journey back to their base in Uttar Pradesh. As they crossed the bridge over the river Basi near Nangawan (UP), their male escort and guardian told said: "We went to vote."
However, ganglords are not solely responsible for the flight of the villagers. "The devastating floods year after year and the changing course of the river has made life hell for us here," said Mahatam Singh of Dumri Ramnagar village. He cycles 15 km from Khirkhia to tend to his modest farm. Devoid of electricity and metalled roads, the far-flung villages of Piprasi, Madhubani, Bhitana and Thakraha blocks are oblivious of India's much-hyped march into the 21st century.
"The government of Bihar too functions in exile here," said a local journalist. "Government officials have also moved base to UP," he added. "Diara mein Bihar sarkar jungle party ka raj chalta hai," said another villager.
Neglected, sans security and development, the non-resident villagers came back to their villages in large numbers to vote on Friday. "Jaan le kar bhagal bani, par kheti ta paachey chhutal ba (we've run with our lives, but our farms remain there)," said Sukdev Yadav. The daylong tour of the villages across the diara revealed that the ganglords have put up their kin for different panchayat posts. "The people came back to vote them to power," explained many a villager.