A Comrade Walks First Past The Post

Away from the clamour of the Grand Alliance’s victory, a communist wins in Seemanchal by a massive margin with almost no publicity and campaign funds

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The children of Kullipatti sneaking into the railway station from an abandoned building adjacent to the platform, their only source of drinking water.

This article appears in The Wire on the 10th of November, 2015.

In a quiet corner in Bihar, for 25 Dalit Bahujan families the election was for an obscure tap on the railway station. 75 year old Lucchki Devi moved to a small corner near the Barsoi Railway station some fifty years ago, after her marriage to Keso Paswan, who worked as a coolie at the station. She has never been back to her home in Uttar Pradesh and she was part of the first of the twenty-five families that now live in a small informal settlement called Kullipatti, Gandhinagar, next to the Barsoi railway station, in Katihar District of Seemanchal in Bihar.

All who can work, work selling chai on the trains that move through the Railway station, or migrate for manual labour. They are compelled to bribe 1200-2000 rupees to the Railway Police every month in order to sell chai on the trains, and they work as far as Kishanganj, some three hours away. The second generation never went to school yet the generation of children today are all studying in a school a kilometer away, where the smaller children are asked to take their own plates to school for the mid-day meal.

The entire families of Kullipatti live in the constant fear of eviction: in the history of state-sponsored caste violence, which is really just a reflection of social attitudes, their homes are constantly demolished twice every year, for seemingly no reason at all.

In a notice dated 19th August, 2015, under the Eviction of Unauthorized Occupation Act, 1971, it was mentioned that the residents had to be evicted for it is ‘required by railway.’ In violation of Supreme Court directives, no alternate sites are offered and no reason is given when residents question the government officials on why they want the land.

Luchhki Devi expects her home to be demolished again after the election, she has lost count with the number of times they’ve had to rebuild her small shanty.

Add to that, it is the water tap at the railway station that they are most agitated about.

Through an abandoned railway building, the residents used to climb through a small window to reach platform No.1 at Barsoi, to utilize the drinking water facilities on the platform. This was their access to water for years, yet a scrupulous railway engineer Sarwan Yadav, deliberately blocked off the supply of water to the tap, ensuring that the residents now need to go past the railway police to access it.

‘Nobody comes to our aid,’ said Sanjeev Yadav, who lives in Kullipatti, and migrates to Punjab for work.

‘Nobody but Babu Alam.’

Every adult in Kullipatti would mention that name, some would begin to speak how they have no faith in the system, in the government, and then as an afterthought, they would say only Alam comes for them. In a meeting lasting an hour, they mentioned his name five times, and those of the incumbent MLA not even once. The ‘maley’ as they are called are actively opposing displacement across the Barsoi railway station, threats of eviction that concern Kanchana and all the shops across the station.

Google ‘Mehboob Alam of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)’ and you will only find one article about the criminal cases on him (that the judiciary is used as a weapon by the state never seems to help differentiate between false cases on activists and those on actual criminals: for instance, Medha Patkar of all people has nine criminal cases to her name. While Alam is no Medha and Medha is no Alam, in one of Alam’s cases from 2010, a dead body was found on the tracks of Barsoi railway station that the authorities refused to pick up. Alam and his party had gone and agitated, and the administration and the police filed a case against him.)

In the Assembly election, 2015, he has 62,513 votes to his name, defeating the runner up, BJP’s Barun Kumar Jha by some 20,419 votes, for a seat, that had seventeen candidates.

He is one of three CPI ML winners, and the one who has won with the largest margin. In the Tarari seat in Bhojpur, that has seen the massacre of Bathani Tola and the acquittal of the alleged killers, Suduma Prasad of CPI-ML won by 272 votes and in Darauli, Siwan, Satyadeo Ram won by 9,584 seats.

The Veteran

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In a sparsely populated ‘market’ area in Barsoi, there are four campaigning offices for the Assembly Elections, a stone’s throw away from each other. There is the AIMIM, there is Sharad Pawar’s National Congress Party , the Shiv Sena, and then there is the CPI ML party office. Except for the Shiv Sena, all of them are fielding Muslim Candidates. Barsoi comes under the Balrampur constituency of Katihar district, literally on the edge of obscurity.

Once upon a time in Katihar, a communist was murdered. Many a time in Bihar, an alleged killer walks free and is running for elections. The infamous Pappu Yadav was initially jailed for the murder of CPI M member Ajit Sarkar in 1998 but was acquitted in 2013. Today’s CPI ML is mostly filled with dissidents from the CPI M, including multiple time MLA Mehboob Alam, who is also known as Babu Alam.

58 year old Alam, is not known as a Muslim leader, he is in fact surrounded by young Yadav, Paswan and Muslim boys, who raise slogans and follow him, as a dark-haired man in a kurta covered in sweat stains merely walks through the market, meeting prospective voters. There are no flags, there is no sound system, there is one boy distributing pamphlets but he has lagged behind. Alam walks with a calm demeanour, there is almost nobody above the age of 25 around him, yet he follows them and their instructions. The people he meets react with familiarity, there is no surprise nor outburst, some follow him as he moves along.

Alam’s route finds me when I was at Kullipatti and Sanjeev Yadav instantly walks up to him, shakes his hand and then joins his small campaign party, quietly following, but never raising slogans.

Alam has been in active politics since 1985 – competing with the Congress, the JD(U) and at times internally in conflict with his own brother, who ran on the CPI ML ticket when Alam was underground.

‘People really voted for me when he was the candidate but he disconnected from the masses,’ Rues Alam, ‘He built his own house and just did not work for the people.’

‘This is not a place that has feudalism, but it has many contradictions,’ Said Prabhat Kumar, a Politburo member of the CPIML who first came to Katihar in 1982. ‘We work on communal harmony, against police atrocities, we work with adivasis fighting for land rights,’ he says, ‘and even if a wife has a problem with her husband, they’d come to Alam rather than go to the police.’

‘There is a lot of social apartheid here, especially with how the railways treats the bastis around it.’ Says Umesh Yadav, who was a student when he joined the CPI ML in 2001. He is one of the younger lieutenants of Alam’s campaign, vociferous, and open with his views. ‘The CPM will be finished in West Bengal, they still haven’t learned about caste. Why are there no Dalits in the communist leadership?’ he would continue, ‘It is caste, you have to work with people, to ask where they are from, to know them.’

When I ask him what the upper caste voters have for the ‘garibo ka party’, he says, ‘development work, hum sab sadak, bridge, panchayat aur bijli ka kaam karte hai.’

Uma Devi, who is a member of the panchayat takes me around to show the development work done by the incumbent MLA Dulal Goswami of the JD(U). Through a settlement near the railway station, there are drains for rainwater, yet the final pipe is merely blocked off by cement, meaning all the water will percolate to merely flood everyone’s homes.

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In 2005, at Kajitola Chowk, Abadhpur, 12 kilometres from Barsoi, a few Dalit families were being forced off their homes by Muslim as well as Hindu landlords. Alam and his party actively supported the residents and were put into open conflict with the landlords, into a conflict of missing historians, of unreliable narrators, where a man was murdered under mysterious circumstances and the case was filed against Alam. ‘If we don’t work with the Dalits who are being harassed by Muslim and Hindu landlords, then the RSS will.’ Said Mehboob Alam calmly, in a single sentence, in response to a question inquiring what had happened in 2005.

Post Script. – The Shiv Sena’s Hansraj Yadav won more votes than the AIMIM’s Adil Hasan, 9,473 votes against the 6,375 for AIMIM. The NCP’s Habibur Rahman won 3,884 votes.

Incumbent MLA Dulal Goswami came third with 40,114 votes.

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