Begusarai: At the peak of the national lockdown in May, Kaushal Kumar and Ranjit Kumar were among 14 people, which included their families, who made the arduous trek from Gurgaon in Haryana to their native village of Hussaina in Bihar’s Begusarai district.
The 14 braved the scorching sun and bouts of hunger to traverse the 1,400 km distance on two rickshaw carts. In the five months since, the two men have made it back to Delhi due to the lack of jobs and any government assistance.
Their families back home, in spite of their hardships, are clear on who their vote is for — Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Modi has sent us gas, toilets and other benefits but officers have used up the money,” said Poonam Devi, the wife of Kaushal Kumar. “We poor have not received it. The Prime Minister has done a lot of work, so we will vote for him.”
The beneficiary of this support, however, is the JD(U)’s Shashi Kant Kumar. Under the NDA seat-sharing agreement, Sahebpur Kamal assembly constituency, under which Hussaina falls, is with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U).
That though is only one half of the picture here. The migrant workers in Hussaina village that ThePrint spoke to are angry with Nitish but absolve the prime minister for the hardships they have faced.
‘No government support for 5 months’
Much of the migrant workers’ anger against Nitish here stems from what they say is the lack of government support in the past five months.
The chief minister had in June claimed that the state government paid Rs 1,000 as return fare for every migrant who came back home.
Prime Minister Modi followed this up by launching the Rs 50,000 crore Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan on 20 June from Khagaria district in Bihar. It was to provide 125 days of employment for migrant workers across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha.
The migrants of Hussaina village say they received none of these benefits.
“Kuch nahi mila. Yae paanch mahinae gaon mein bhukho marne ki naubat aa gayi thi. Sarkar ne kuch nahi diya, na paisa na rozgar (We faced severe distress in these past five months. The government has given us nothing, not the money or the jobs. So my husband had no option but to go back to Delhi, where he ferries goods for a living),” said Poonam Devi.
She added that the families are in debt due to the journey they made back during the lockdown.
“We had taken Rs 14,000 from a relative to come here on our cycle carts,” Devi said. “It broke down several times, the tyres got punctured. People gave us food along the way but once we reached here, we tested positive for Covid. We were quarantined at a Begusarai school where the food had worms in it. We have no ration card and no Aadhar card. Nobody cares for the poor.”
Her sister-in-law Bebi Devi echoes her views. “We did not even get funds to construct toilets under the Swachh Bharat campaign,” she said. “The last five months have been miserable.”
Suchit Shah, who is a ward member at Hussaina, blames officials in the government for the funds not being disbursed.
“Around 56 people came back to the village during the lockdown,” Shah said. “They have not got the money that the chief minister announced as the officers don’t move the files without a cut (bribe). We have submitted the files but there has been no response.”
Very few migrants left in village to vote
During the lockdown, some 30 lakh migrants had returned to Bihar but now most have headed back to Delhi, Bengaluru and Surat in search of jobs.
In every village, only a few migrants are left. They all plan to return to the cities after Chhath Puja, the famous sun festival that falls on 20 November this year.
In the village after village that ThePrint visited, migrants had returned to cities leaving only their families behind. The primary reason being the lack of jobs.
In the months of May and June, Bihar had used nearly 91 per cent of its allocation of Rs 2,886 crore for the first quarter under the MNREGA. The garib kalyan scheme also ended in October and so migration picked up in most villages.
“Most of the workers have moved to cities, they are not waiting for the vote and election,” said Manish Kumar who runs a tea stall at Ballia village. “A few of them will go after Chhath Puja.”
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.