Traditionally, women in Bihar have taken a back seat and mostly restricted themselves to their homes leaving all external interaction to men. Winds are changing. The record turnout of women during the 1st phase of voting is a testimony to this change. During 2010 assembly elections too, women came out to vote in greater numbers than men.
Earlier, women would merely go and vote as per ‘instruction’ from their menfolk. Those days are now becoming rare. The women in Bihar today are very aware of their political and social rights, even in rural areas. In fact, the change is perhaps even more evident in rural areas.
These elections have seen a record number of women candidates who will be contesting. Irrespective of results, the fact that political parties are beginning to realize their significance, is an important change in itself. It is not uncommon to see women confidently moving from door-to-door canvassing either for themselves or their party members.
Women in Bihar have made significant inroads in areas like teaching and social services. Women are now the driving force behind the ‘Anganwadi’ scheme as also many self-help groups that have mushroomed and are fully utilizing the services of micro-finance to change the quality of life. Nitish Kumar has been quick to realize this and pushed for girl-friendly schemes like Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana in 2007, which played an important role in voting him back to power.
The change from 2010 to these elections is that mobile phones have dramatically increased their penetration and therefore, have become a driving catalyst for information and awareness. The youth in Bihar, particularly young girls, have greater professional aspiration today and are now willing to step outside their homes and state to pursue their career ambitions. 2015 will be the platform to express their political choice.
These elections are critical for not just two political alliances or two leaders, but are going to be a game changer for women, irrespective of which alliance comes to power, and that’s great news for women of Bihar. Women, without doubt, will form the driving force for social change that the nation expects to see in Bihar. This year is definitely going to prove to be a defining moment for them.
Alliance partners face big test in 2nd phase
The second phase of voting is going to see stalwarts of the NDA alliance in the frontline, as polls get underway tomorrow. Both Jitan Ram Manjhi, HAM-S and Upendra Kushwaha, RLSP, will be put to test as several of their party members contest. The results of tomorrow’s polls (to be announced on 8 Nov) is critical for demonstrating strength that will have an impact on their future relations with BJP, as the results will reveal not just who wins but by how many votes.
HAM-S is contesting in 7 of the 21 seats allotted to it in the 2nd phase of polls tomorrow. Jitan Manjhi himself is contesting from Imamganj in Gaya district, which is a SC reserved seat, and as a back-up measure, from Makhdumpur in Jehanabad district. Both districts are part of Maoist-affected zones, where caste divisions have widened between the upper and lower castes. The lower castes have often joined cause with the Muslim community and have been left-leaning, with support coming from Maoist cadres that have capitalised on their political and social isolation.
Jitan Manjhi faces Uday Narayan Singh, JD(U), who has been a two time assembly speaker and has been holding the seat since 1990. The only time he lost the seat was in 1995. Imamganj has a strong concentration of Kushwaha and Musahar community that will play a critical role in determining the winner from this seat.
In Makhdumpur, Jahanabad district, Jitan Manjhi faces a tough challenge from Subedar Das, RJD. What has come as an unexpected blessing for Jitan Manjhi is that Subedar Das has been caught on tape accepting cash in a sting operation. He now faces an enquiry from the EC’s office. This will come as breather for Manjhi who has to ensure that not only can he win himself, his party too can deliver, as projected.
Several of his family members are in the fray as well. His son, Santosh Kumar Suman is contesting from Kutumba in Aurangabad district and is facing a strong challenge from Rajesh Kumar, INC, while Manjhi’s son-in-law Devendra Kumar is contesting from Bodh Gaya as an Independent and will be up against Kumar Sarvjeet, RJD.
Maoists could be the biggest loser in the 2nd phase of election
The Naxal-Maoist groups have been facing diminishing support as awareness and education spreads further into the rural areas of Bihar and other affected states. It was complete lack of education along with abject poverty and exploitation by the upper classes that forced village folk of rural Bihar to seek support from the Maoists, which now operate as a merged identity between the People’s War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC).
Rural Bihar that was totally neglected for decades is now changing for the better but still has a long way to go. Posters calling for people to boycott elections have sprung up across the affected districts of Bihar, mostly those falling under the 2nd phase of polling that is scheduled for tomorrow. Just as in J&K, the people have been increasingly ignoring these calls and have risked their lives to step out to vote.
The central government has been backing states in their fight against leftist militant groups with significant success achieved in Karnataka, parts of AP, Jharkhand and parts of Chhattisgarh. Bihar too has been a beneficiary.
2015 is going to be the best year yet in terms of security and related arrangements during polls and should see larger number of voters coming out to exercise their franchise. If tomorrow’s voter turnout is in record numbers, the biggest loser in these elections is going to be the Maoist cadres. It remains to be seen whether tomorrow will be a landmark moment in the fight against the Maoists.
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