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I Am Bihar:
'They shoo the poor as if they are dogs'

Last updated on: October 15, 2015 10:28 IST

Rai Mamta Kumari's first shot at politics ended before it could begin.lead

She had gone to file her nomination with a procession of 56 four wheelers and distributed 1,800 food packets. Then something went wrong.

Archana Masih met the would-be candidate in historic Chirand which dates back to the Stone Age, as Rediff.com looks at Bihar through the lives of its people.

Rai Mamta Kumari

IMAGE: Mamta Kumari is a housewife from Patna whose first attempt at politics did not take off. Photographs: Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Rai Mamta Kumari is standing on the verandah of her father's home on a hot morning that will end in rain.

She is dressed in a pastel sari and a full sleeve blouse. A soft-spoken 33 year old who would have made her first foray into politics had things not gone wrong.

She had gone to file her nomination at the head of a procession that boasted 56 four wheelers. 1,800 food packets were distributed to people around. In Bihar such shows of strength are an important part of the pageantry of a neta's election.

Two days ago, I was stuck in the midst of three similar processions in Siwan. Supporters in long processions riding motorbikes with party flags and on foot accompanied their netas as they made their way to the nomination centre. The supporters were not allowed into the precincts of the centre, but had caused traffic mayhem outside.

And making its way through it all, along with the autorickshaws, cyclerickshaws, cars etc was an elephant!

An elephant on Siwan's main road

IMAGE: An elephant on Siwan's main road. 

Caught in the melee, I thought of Mamta Kumari's procession taking a similar course. She must have left home taking her parents' blessing and of her younger brother Randhir whose bust welcomes anyone who enters the family home.

He was younger than her -- she doesn't remember by how many years -- and worked as a journalist. On the day of the results of the 2009 Lok Sabha election, he was hit by a bus not far from their home and died.

In a few days he would have flown to Muscat and taken up a new job. Plans were afoot for his wedding. None of that ever happened. The family lost its only son and brother.

Her father Jagannath Rai got a metal bust made of Randhir from Patna and installed it in the front yard. Each morning he plucks flowers and makes a garland himself to put around his son's neck after he bathes the bust. Whatever is cooked in the house is first placed in a plate for Randhir's bust. A diya is lit every night.

Mamta with brother's bust

IMAGE: Mamta Kumari with her brother's bust.

That morning, the glass of water placed with the food remains there. His eyes welling up with tears, Jagannathji shows me the ground behind his home he has earmarked to set up a college in his son's name.

There is a patch of land in between that is under dispute so the plan hasn't borne fruit. The board bearing the name of the college is, however, ready.

Since his son worked as a reporter, he asks me to call him Chachaji because, after all, I am a reporter too.

Sitting in the room is Mamta's husband Pushpendra Roy, who spent 22 years in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam (the reason he spells his surname 'Roy' instead of 'Rai'). The couple live in Patna and Mamta had returned to her family home in Lodipur, Chirand, to fight an election on a Samajwadi Party ticket.

84 Samajwadi Party candidates are in the fray in Bihar. Mamta would have been the 85th. But two days after she filed her nomination with such fanfare, her candidature was rejected by the Election Commission.

Pushpendra is agitated -- the couple had been working in the area for the past few months, he says -- but Mamta is calm. In a conversation where he does most of the talking, they tell me what went wrong and why the battle is far from over.

Jagannath Rai

IMAGE: Jagannath Rai outside his home. A procession of women leaves to bring water from the Ganga for puja.

Pushpendra: I was born in Bomdilla. My father was a school teacher in Arunachal (his father ran away from Patna after his father's death to make a living in the North-East. He saw an advertisement in a newspaper for a teaching position while in Shillong, applied on the last date and went on to work as a teacher for 40 years in Arunachal).

I decided to return to Bihar when some of my friends in Arunachal asked me to help them beat up Bihari labourers. They did not know that though I was born and brought up there, I was a Bihari too.

It was a shock that Mamta's nomination was rejected. I have a strong feeling that this is a conspiracy against us by some powerful people who became nervous with how strong we were turning out to be.

Our nomination was rejected because instead of giving the names of 10 proposers, we gave only one. If the staff had told us that our form was incomplete at the time of submission, we could have easily given nine other names. We had those people right outside!

We are not neta type of people, I run computer coaching centres. Yahan par poora rajniti lathi danda type hai (politics is about muscle-power here).

But we will not give up. We feel the way things are going that there will be such commotion between parties after the results that a fresh election will be called in a few months.

No one will be able to stop us next time!

Boys in field

IMAGE: Boys carrying loads of grass make their way through the ground for the proposed college.

Mamta: I too spent a few years after marriage in the North-East. I have been a housewife, but I worked in a missionary school in Patna for a while.

I campaigned in 30 villages. I will go back to the people to tell them the reason I am not in the fray. I owe it to them.

My leader (Mulayam Singh Yadav) is the only leader after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose to be called Netaji. I got involved with the party one-and-a-half years ago. I will continue with my party and in politics.

I may not have succeeded in my first attempt, but I will not give up. I have grown up in this area and it is worse now than what it was 20 years ago.

So many women in the rural area have told me so many of their problems. They tell me that netas and officials send them away when they go to them as if they are shooing away dogs.

Mamta Kumari has left her two children with her mother-in-law in Patna. Now that this election won't happen for her, she is pleased that she will make it for their school function.

Her campaign was being led by her husband and father-in-law, the retired school teacher, who says Arunachal Pradesh had only 5 districts when he went there as a 19 year old and now it has 19. He recites a poem in Hindi about the state's rivers.

Pushpendra, her husband, says he had chalked out Mamta's campaign systematically on paper that would make a thick stack. He adds that the family had thought of selling a plot of land to fund the campaign. But it did not come to that.

THE I AM BIHAR SERIES

Archana Masih