Sasaram: New faces fight for Jagjiwan Ram’s old citadel as kin opt out - Hindustan Times
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Sasaram: New faces fight for Jagjiwan Ram’s old citadel as kin opt out

ByPrasun K Mishra, Sasaram
May 27, 2024 09:53 PM IST

Jagjiwan Ram, the former deputy prime minister fondly called “Babu Ji” due to his role in the freedom struggle and Dalit welfare, scripted a national record by winning the seat (reserved for scheduled castes) from 1952 to 1984.

Sasaram Lok Sabha constituency in south Bihar, which has a sizeable tribal population as well as the biggest wildlife sanctuary of the state, is known for its historic association with late Jagjiwan Ram and his family.

Bihar deputy chief minister Samrat Choudhary at a BJP rally in Sasaram. (HT photo)
Bihar deputy chief minister Samrat Choudhary at a BJP rally in Sasaram. (HT photo)

Jagjiwan Ram, the former deputy prime minister fondly called “Babu Ji” due to his role in the freedom struggle and Dalit welfare, scripted a national record by winning the seat (reserved for scheduled castes) from 1952 to 1984.

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His daughter and former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar continued his legacy till 2019 elections. The former diplomat won the seat twice, in 2004 and 2009. She lost to Chhedi Paswan of BJP in 2014 and 2019.

However, the family’s association with Sasaram has ended in 2024 after Meira Kumar opted out of the race. Her son, Anshul Avijit, is trying his luck as a Congress candidate from Patna Sahib seat in the state capital.

Despite political stalwarts having represented the seat, the poor people in the region, which is famous for paddy production in its fertile planes irrigated by 150-year-old Sone Canal System and infamous for poverty and Naxalism, are still waiting for basic facilities like electricity, health care, irrigation and quality education, especially in the hilly terrains inhabited by tribals.

Of the six assembly seats falling in the Lok Sabha constituency, Congress and RJD together currently have five. The sixth, Chainpur seat, was won by BSP candidate Jama Khan, who joined JD (U) and became a minister.

This time, BJP has fielded former MLA Shivesh Ram from the Sasaram parliamentary seat, which was won by his father Munilal Ram thrice.

The Congress has fielded Manoj Kumar, who had polled more than 86,000 votes in 2019 as a BSP candidate. BSP has fielded one Santosh Kumar.

BJP is mainly banking on upper castes, besides Vaishya, Kurmi and Kushwaha communities and EBCs while Congress is hoping to get Yadav, Muslim, Mahadalit and Kushwaha votes.

Meira Kumar, who won the seat in 2004 and 2009, has good influence on Kushwaha and SC votes.

BJP leader Chhedi Paswan, who won the seat in 2014 and 2019, has been denied ticket this time. he also has good influence on Paswans and upper castes.

Pending dam project

Tengari Chero (66) of Makari Khoh, a village situated in dense forests across hills in Bhagwanpur block falling under Chainpur assembly constituency, was only 18 years old and newly married in 1978 when hope first beckoned this famished land.

The then irrigation minister of Bihar, Sachchidanand Singh, had ordered a survey for constructing a dam and reservoir on Suara river that runs through Bhagwanpur so that water could be made available for irrigating the parched fields in the area.

“We were happy our children would not die of hunger,” Chero says.

The survey was completed and a report was submitted to the state government, but the project never took off.

BJP MP Chhedi Paswan visited the site in January 2016 and promised its construction. Paswan again won from the seat in 2019 but nothing happened.

Suresh Singh, coordinator of Bandh Nirman Sangharsh Samiti, which has been agitating in favour of the project, said, “The dam could irrigate about 30,000 hectares of land in hilly Bhagwanpur, Chainpur, Chand and Durgawati block areas of the district.”

Minimum support price (MSP) to farmers is also a burning issue, among others, but caste politics is overriding all of them, said Rajesh Kumar, a local social activist

“The region is known for bumper paddy production and milling quality rice, but it is still standing alone when there is an opportunity to raise our demands,” said Vijay Bahadur Singh, president Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (Kaimur).

The situation is no different in hilly regions of the constituency in the south-west part of Bihar from where the British-era Sone Canal System originated and irrigated eight districts called granary of Bihar.

“The foundation stone for Mahadeva Reservoir to provide water to dry land in tribal areas of Chenari and Sasaram assembly constituencies was laid 35 years back, but the poor farmers of the region are still waiting for it,” Anil Singh, a famer from Sikariya village in Sasaram assembly constituency said.

Sasaram is also home to Kaimur wildlife sanctuary, the biggest in Bihar. It has a good tribal population falling in Chainpur and Chenari assembly constituencies, but tribals were deprived of forest products, the traditional source of their livelihood, after the hilly forests extending over 1,504.96 square kilometres were declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1979.

“After long nationwide agitations, the union government passed Forest Dwellers Act in 2006 to provide the tribals traditional rights over minor forest produce and land of traditional use, but the state government has not implemented the act, making our conditions worse,” said Balkeshwar Singh Kharwar, president of Kaimur Mukti Morcha.

Shivesh Ram, the BJP candidate from Sasaram, however, ruled out any agrarian resentment in the region. He said the district had achieved milestones during the NDA rule. “Shining roads, bridges, health facilities and different welfare and development schemes have changed the fate of people. This time, NDA will make a clean sweep,” he said.

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