Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had inaugurated the Kosi Rail Mahasetu over the Bihar’s river of woes on September 18, had used the opportunity to send out a subtle political message ahead of the ongoing assembly polls.
He had sought to change the political discourse of the impoverished landscape from destruction to that development.
The opening of Mahasetu is having a two-pronged effect in the region. It is encouraging migration of the poor local population in a bigger way amid the annual spectre of floods, triggered by the rain and snow-fed rivers from adjoining Nepal.
The growing migration trend in the Kosi region was discernible as recently as 10 days ago, when a luxury bus carrying 50 youth passengers left Murliganj block in Madhepura district.
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The journey was symbolic of the region’s unemployed youth’s lack of faith in the parties’ pledge to create jobs in their manifestos. The trust deficit is reinforced by their decision to leave their native places without exercising their franchise.
Local migrant workers such as Shrawan Rishidev, Mukesh Mandal, Rahul Singh, Roshan Kumar are disenchanted about their employment prospects in their home state.
“No job is available in Bihar. The employers from Gujarat and Punjab provided up to Rs 4,000 per family as advance and free transportation to help us return to our respective workplaces after the restrictions were lifted that were enforced following the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak,” said Mithu Singh, a migrant worker, who is planning to return to Punjab.
“Most of the males of our area are seeking their fortunes outside their native villages,” said Champa, a neighbour of Singh.
In the past month, over 40 buses from the block left for various destinations carrying migrant workers, who had returned to their native villages because of the 68-day Covid-19-induced nationwide lockdown restrictions, which were enforced on March 25.
IS MIGRATION AN ISSUE IN THE KOSI REGION?
Migration is not new in the industrially-backward Kosi region. The Jan Sewa Express, which was operational before the Covid-19 outbreak and in local parlance known as the Palayan Express, used to run between Saharsa town and the national capital.
“The train, which only had chair car facility, used to carry passengers from far and wide such as Supaul, Nepal and Madhepura daily,” said Manish Kumar, who belongs to Madhepura.
The parties are aware of the pitfalls of migration amid a keenly-contested assembly polls.
“Migration will affect the voting pattern. But people are frustrated because of growing joblessness in the region. How long will they remain beholden to greedy money-lenders?” said Anand Mandal, who owes his allegiance to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
He is a relative of Nikhil Mandal, the ruling Janata Dal (United) candidate from the Madhepura assembly seat.
Mandal, the JD (U) candidate, is unfazed by the impact of migration on his poll prospects.
“Migration is dependent on opportunity and people are free to go anywhere they choose to go. Be that as it may, we will try to create more jobs in the Kosi region,” said the JD (U) nominee.
The flood-affected Kosi region, which includes Saharsa, Madhepura, Supaul, Darbhanga, Sitamarhi, Araria, Kishanganj, Forbesganj, Purnia and Katihar districts, is all along known for widespread migration.
“The people of this region are very poor. They can take all kinds of adversities in their stride. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit them the hardest in recent times,” said Anand Mandal, a resident of Muroh village.
“Migration has also got a shot in the arm because of exponentially higher wages in other states,” said Mithilesh, who also belongs to Muroh.
Muroh is the native village of late BP Mandal, the former CM of Bihar and also the chairman of a panel that was set up in 1979 to provide reservation to socially and educationally backward classes.
However, the Kosi region is in the throes of a makeover, albeit incremental.
Of late, a railway locomotive factory has been set up in Madhepura, where the construction work for a medical college is close to completion and an Industrial Training Institute (ITI) is in the works.
Several new shops, including a few outlets of reputed brands, have come up, heralding tell-tale signs of newfound prosperity.
Dinesh Mishra, a prominent social worker, who is known for his flood relief work in the area, said migration was never a poll issue.
“Earlier too, people from the region would migrate to neighbouring West Bengal, Assam, and Nepal for work. Now, they are making a beeline for northern and western India, which are more prosperous. These people are loyal to parties who stand by them during crises,” he reasoned.
The Economic Survey of Bihar 2018-19 had attributed the major reasons of migration to employment, business, education, marriage, etc.
In Bihar, 75% of the total migration took place due to marriage, compared to 46% at the national level. A further gender break-up showed that an overwhelming 76% of them were males.
The Kosi region holds the key for the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), comprising the JD (U), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the challenger, Grand Alliance or mahagathbandhan, which consists of the RJD, the Congress and the Left parties, in the third phase of the Bihar elections, where 78 seats will go to polls on Saturday (November 7).
In 2015, the JD (U), which was in alliance with the RJD, had won eight of the 13 seats in the Kosi region, while the RJD and the BJP had bagged four and one, respectively.
CM Nitish Kumar understands the importance of the region and camped at Madhepura for two successive nights while campaigning in the neighbouring districts.
He had made Madhepura his base during the last two parliamentary polls in 2014 and 2019, when he had stayed put for around 13 days.
Will Kumar’s electoral tactic pay off?
It will be known on November 10, when poll results for the 243-member Bihar legislative assembly are declared.
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