What we cannot say about bureaucracy

“..the situations created by violence — particularly structural violence, by which I means pervasive social inequality that are ultimately backed by the threat of physical harm — invariably tend to create the kids of willful blindness we normally associate with bureaucratic procedures. To put it crudely: it is not so much that bureaucratic procedures are inherently stupid, or even that they tend to produce behaviour that they themselves define as stupid — though they do do that — but rather, that they are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence.

…Comparative analysis suggests there is a direct relation, however, between the level of violence employed in a bureaucratic system, and the level of absurdity it is seen to produce. Keith Breckenridge (2008), for example, has documented at some length the regimes of “power without knowledge,” typical of colonial South Africa, where coercion and paperwork largely substituted for the need for understanding African subjects. The actual installation of apartheid in the 1950s, for example, was heralded by a new pass system that was designed to simplify earlier rules that obliged African workers to carry extensive documentation of labor contracts, substituting a single identity booklet, marked with their “names, locale, fingerprints, tax status, and their officially prescribed ‘rights’ to live and work in the towns and cities” (Breckenridge 2005: 84), and nothing else. Government functionaries appreciated it for streamlining administration, police for relieving them of the responsibility of having to actually talk to African workers. African workers, for their parts, universally referred to the new document as the dompas , or “stupid pass”, for precisely that reason.

Andrew Mathews’ ethnography of the Mexican forestry service in Oaxaca likewise demonstrates that it is precisely the structural inequality of power between government officials and local farmers that allows foresters to remain in a kind of ideological bubble, maintaining simple black-and-white ideas about forest fires (for instance), that allow them to remain pretty much the only people in Oaxaca who don’t understand what effects their regulations actually have.

..Bureaucracies, I’ve suggested, are not themselves forms of stupidity so much as they are ways of organizing that stupidity — of managing relationships that are already characterized by extremely unequal structures of imagination, which exist because of the existence of structural violence. This is why even if a bureaucracy is created for entirely benevolent reasons, it will still produce absurdities.”

—-‘Dead Zones of the Imagination’, David Graeber.

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On India’s biometrics ID Aadhaar debate

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7-year old Abhishek Bairwa enrolling in Aadhaar in a shop in Bagru, Jaipur district after being asked by his school teachers to do so. photo AnumehaY

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No benefits for beneficiaries

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Nepal blockade may have created an enduring problem on the border: Fuel smuggling

This post from Raxaul-Birgunj border when the Nepal blockade ended, in early February.

A four-month blockade on the India-Nepal international border by Madhesi protestors left the Himalayan nation with lingering travails.

The blockade, started in September and ended on February 4, and caused enormous shortages and price rises in most parts of Nepal. As imports were disrupted, fuel scarcity pushed people to take to illegal logging and deforestation, creating a real threat of floods. Particularly hit during the four-month period were hospitals and schools. Reconstruction efforts after the deadly April 2015 earthquake too came to a standstill as loaded trucks were prevented from crossing the open border.

In Kathmandu, confronted with cooking gas shortage, most residents switched to firewood and induction stoves for cooking and heating. But this gave rise to further trouble. The widespread use of induction stoves caused electricity transformers to explode, disrupting power distribution.

A full recovery from this impact of the blockade, including from the slowdown of Nepal’s economy, may take long. Even a week after the blockade was lifted, there was little immediate relief for citizens.

Switching trades

Many fuel stations in Kathmandu remained closed. During the blockade, the government provided fuel only to emergency services vehicles and to private vehicles as per lots based on registration numbers. Now too, some rationing continues. The government announced that from next week, all vehicles will get fuel but within limits – 5 litres for motorcycles and 15 litres for four-wheelers.

The blockade by the Madhesis – a term for several communities living in Nepal’s central and eastern plains who have close cultural and family ties to India – also led to widespread smuggling of fuel along the border. The question now is: will the black market syndicate fostered by the illicit business continue in the coming months?

During the blockade, in Raxaul in Bihar’s East Champaran district, protestors didn’t allow four-wheeled vehicles on Maitreyi bridge, which connect the town to Birgunj in Nepal. Yet, thousands carried fuel from Raxaul to Birgunj in cola bottles and plastic jars of 15 litres or 20 litres on foot. Young men on motorbikes zipped back and forth multiple times every day, filling their tanks in Raxaul, selling the fuel in Birgunj, and returning for a refill.

Phoolvati Devi, who lives in Pashupatinagar, a border village near Maitreyi bridge, said the hectic ferrying of gas cylinders and cans went on through the night.

On the Maitreyi bridge, Sheikh Azad, who runs the Golden Gate Academy, a private school in Birgunj, was negotiating the price of 21 litres of diesel with Sohrab Ansari, a fruit seller. Since the blockade started, Ansari had switched from selling fruit to selling fuel, and had hired two children – Rukmini and Rambabu – to assist him. Selling fruit he earned a profit of Rs 5 per kilo. Selling fuel, he managed a margin of Rs 40 per litre on good days.

Hum jhola min bech rahein hain, woh bora mein bech rahein hain (What we are selling in bags, they – the smugglers – are selling in sacks),” said Ansari, hinting that the network was much larger than appeared.

‘Tel ki kheti’

In another part of Parsa district, at the inland depot at Sirisiya, Pitamber Patel, a farmer, had brought 50 litres of diesel on his bicycle to sell to truck drivers at the depot. “Ab tel hi kheti hai (It is a harvest of fuel this year),” he said.

Chain Kishore Chaudhary, a former staffer of the depot, was now a “dealer”. Boys in India bought fuel from gas stations and stored it at home, explained Chaudhary, and he paid local boys Rs 200 per trip to bring it to the depot. “We buy from Indians at Rs 65 a litre and sell it to truck drivers at Rs 75 per litre,” said Chaudhary. “On good days, it earns us thousands.”

Cooking gas cylinders too were smuggled at large profits. Dealers buy cooking gas cylinders of 14 kilo from Indians at the border at Rs 2,300 and transfer the gas into an empty Nepali company cylinder by simply overturning it, using a nozzle. Till last month, they were selling it to freight transporters for Rs 2,800, who then sold it in Kathmandu for up to Rs 5,000 per cylinder.

“This is Nepal’s progress,” said Chaudhary. “No, I suppose, this is India’s progress. They must have recorded fuel sales worth a year in just six months.”

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Farmworkers and rag-pickers walked through fields with fuel bought in India

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Nepal’s Armed Police Force posted in a border village said they allowed those carrying fuel since it helped tide over the shortages.

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Sheikh Azad, who ran a private school in Birgunj, negotiated the price of fuel with Sheikh Ansari, who sold fruit before the blockade.

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At Sirisiya Inland depot, dealer Biswanath Patel (left) bought fuel from locals who brought it here on motorcycles and bicycles. Patel then sold it to truck drivers.

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Manu Kumar, who is 15, had quit work as a labourer at the Dabur factory. He loaded a bicycle with 40 litres of diesel.

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Several truck drivers stored the fuel to sell it at even higher rates in Kathmandu and elsewhere.

More reports from on the Nepal blockade in Scroll.in here.

 

Jharkhand polls: In Jharia, Nirsa, coal leaves a mark on polls

The Hindu

At the tri-junction at Govindpur, Mahendra Mahto paused to look both sides before continuing pushing his cycle. Mahto, in his 20s, wearing a shirt and trousers and open-toed sandals, had six sacks weighing 40 kgs each of coal tied to both sides of the cycle. He began walking, pushing the 250-kg load five hours earlier at 6 am. At Govindpur, he joined six cyclewallahs who were waiting for everyone in their group to catch up. They sold the sacks to dhaba-owners, tea-shops at Rs 50 a sack at the market, before cycling home to Godhar.

Mahto had hesitated before speaking about his journey from Godhar coal mine, 17 km away, till here. After the central government nationalised coal in 1971, digging coal by hand and using it in small quantities as household fuel, or selling it in the open market is illegal. Thousands of landless families, a majority of whom are dalit and OBC, pushing cycles loaded with coal every day in Jharkhand’s coal-rich areas are a criminalised community, and live and work in perpetual fear of being jailed for their livelihood.

Coal traders, however, have prospered. In Dhanbad’s Jharia, which will go to polls in the fourth phase of elections in the state on December 14, the two main candidates, representing BJP and Congress belong to the “Singh Mansion”, said to be the richest family in the coal business in Jharkhand. The BJP candidate Sanjeev Singh, the son of the sitting MLA Kunti Singh and former MLA Surya Dev Singh is set for a face-off with his paternal cousin, Neeraj Singh, the Deputy Mayor of Dhanbad.

The Singhs are accused of controlling the loading of coal in trucks and at railway slidings, and of demanding a tax on every tonne loaded, in collusion with Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL) officials. They are accused of running syndicates which bid at electronic auctions and keep prices low. Every year, upto 20 million tonnes of coal is estimated to be diverted.

Sanjiv Singh, BJP candidate in Jharia, at Hurriladih mine where 19 workers died when the mine flooded on 14 September 1983. photo by Manob Chowdhury

Sanjeev Singh, BJP candidate in Jharia, at Hurriladih mine where 19 workers died when the mine flooded on 14 September 1983. photo by Manob Chowdhury

“Not a single trader can say we have stopped them from doing business. In fact, we help whoever wishes to do business in coal here,” said BJP candidate Sanjeev Singh, as he sat in his SUV after addressing a rally at Bhaura grounds, Jharia. Sanjeev Singh was one of the accused in the murder of Suresh Singh, a rival in the coal business who was gunned down at a wedding in 2011. “The police was not able to prove that I was even present in Dhanbad that day,” pointed out Mr Singh, as his villagers and mine workers walking on the road offered salutations everywhere Mr Singh went. Both candidates claim ownership of Janta Mazdoor Sangh (JMS), a trade union set up by Sanjeev’s father, former MLA Surya Dev Singh, through which the family is said to influence coal loading and transportation.

Congress candidate Neeraj Singh said that after training in engineering, he worked in Kolkata and Ranchi before returning to Dhanbad. He began public work in Jharia by taking up the cause of contract workers of BCCL to get wages and hours of work in parity with BCCL’s permanent workers. “When BCCL tried to move families living on top of Jharia coal-fields, I backed their agitation for rehabilitation and courted arrest,” said Mr Singh, as he finished addressing his supporters late in the evening at Lodna.

A few kilometers away, in bastis in Bhandora, Jayrampurmod, Jagdorha, in the midst of Jharia’s mines, the landless cyclewallahs, too poor to find temporary jobs in the mines, had begun returning home after another day of evading arrests and harassment.

Villagers and mine workers at Congress candidate Neeraj Singh's election rally in Jharia. photo by Manob Chowdhury

Villagers and mine workers at Congress candidate Neeraj Singh’s election rally in Lodna near Jharia. photo by Manob Chowdhury

NIRSA: At late noon, there is hectic activity in the open-cast coal mine at Dahibadi. Workers can be seen loading trucks before they slowly make their way up the massive open quarry. A hundred meters away, at the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL)’s Basantimata colliery all is quiet except ocassional sounds of a water
pump from underneath the ground.

Gopal Singh, the attendance clerk in shift ‘A’ says 104 mine workers are 1500 meters underground. There are six hours more to go before the shift ends. Both Singh and Birendra Ram, the Haulage Operator, working nearby seem to turn philosophical when they speak of work. “This is a place of pure darkness,” says Ram. “Workers find a new life every time they emerge from the mine. It is a relief for all of us once the full shift comes out,” says Singh, in his late 50s. Every BCCL employee seems to recount the histories of mine accidents from decades ago. “Nineteen workers at Hurriladih took jal samadhi, the mine had got flooded, on 14 September 1983. It was the same at Gajritand. In Chasnala, the entire shift, 370 workers, died underground.”

At Basantimata colliery, a few meters from Singh’s small cabin, there was an accident just last year. On November 13, 2013, three workers Harilal Hairjan, Litti Sau, Sitaram Manjhi, died when a portion of the mine’s roof collapsed. The sitting MLA Arup Chatterjee of Marxist Coordination Committee (MCC) spent six hourse inside the mine coordinating the rescue efforts after the body of a BCCL manager had remained trapped a day after the three workers’ bodies had been removed.

Nirsa goes to polls on December 14 in the fourth phase of elections in Jharkhand. The MCC’s Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union (BKCU) and the rival Janta Mazdoor Sangh (JMS) both compete for cadre membership and workers’ votes. Both MCC and BKCU were founded in early 1970s by AK Roy, a founder of the Jharkhand Movement. Nirsa is the one of two assembly seats in Jharkhand the Left has been able to hold on to for the last two decades. JMS was set up by former MLA Surya Dev Singh, whose son Sanjeev Singh is contesting from nearby Jharia on a BJP seat. BJP candidate in Nirsa is Ganesh Mishra, a RSS functionary.

The rivalries between the two parties erupted in clashes between MCC and BJP on December 11 in which MCC wrker Machan Ravidas was killed in hours before the MCC was to hold a rally at Pithakyari, a few kilmeters from Basantimata. “For us, this is a fight against growing corporate clout here and for the rights of people of Jharkhand as Comrade AK Roy envisioned,” said Sushanto Mukherjee Central Committee member of MCC.

The young rebels of Jhumra hills

Babita Mahto, who has been with this Local Guerrilla Squad of CPI (Maoist) a year, said that joining the party gave her a sense of purpose and immortality.

“So many women in the Mahto community kill themselves due to the stress from dowry, tilak [social ceremonies]. If I die at home, my parents will mourn for some months; we had a daughter who died, they will say. But here, there are so many of us who will remember — there was such and such didi [older sister], our comrade; she died for the people.”

An article based on this and other interviews with Maoist rebels in this area appeared in The Hindu.

Tribals torn apart by religion

The Hindu
Whether due to economic disparities or the stoking of enmities by different religious groups, the chasm between Sarna and Christian tribals has widened

Photo by Manob Chowdhury

Photo by Manob Chowdhury


Two months before polling began in Jharkhand, Ajay Tirkey began dividing his day between campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Ranchi and attending to his real estate business. Mr. Tirkey, who heads the Central Sarna Committee(CSC), with lakhs of animistic Sarna tribals as members in urban parts of Ranchi, Gumla and Hazaribagh, believes that the BJP’s Narendra Modi will get the community what it has been demanding for decades: the distinction of being a minority religion with all attendant benefits. “We submitted a memorandum to Modi in December to introduce a Sarna code in the census, and [the] BJP’s State leaders agreed,” he says.

Mr. Tirkey — tall, stout, dressed in white shirt and trousers and wearing a golden watch on one wrist and a vermillion thread on the other — speaks softly and smiles often, even while narrating the violence that has broken out following his organisation’s attempt to stop religious conversions in the last decade. The office of his company, Deoshila Development Private Limited, is sparsely furnished, with only a poster of Hanuman for decoration. Mr. Tirkey owns the commercial complex we are sitting in. “This is a century-old fight. I have not let the Christians get away with conversions since I became the head in 2000,” he says. “We broke the walls of a church in Tape in Ormanjhi while it was being constructed. There was a case of conversion of five families in Ghagrajala village in Ranchi; we re-converted three. Then a few families in Gaitalsud, Angada, of whom only one member escaped because he worked somewhere else. He has not come back since; he fears us,” he recounts, beaming.

Mr. Tirkey, the BJP’s mayoral candidate from Ranchi in 2013, describes the “re-conversion” ceremonies as being similar to the ghar-waapsi (homecoming) ceremonies conducted by BJP leader Dilip Singh Judeo in Chhattisgarh, in the mid-2000s. Mr. Judeo used to wash the feet of the converted person with holy water and declare the person Hindu again. Sarnas, Mr. Tirkey says, besides washing feet, made the converted person taste a drop of blood of a freshly sacrificed rooster and sprinkled water on them. A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh’s Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) or Dharam Jagran usually accompanied CSC members for this ceremony, he says. Sitting by Mr. Tirkey’s side, Manoj Kumar, a member of the BJP’s Jharkhand Kisan Morcha Pradesh Samiti, nods in agreement.

Conversion politics

In the last century, religious conversions in the Chotanagpur region have led to tensions. The first missionaries to arrive were the German Protestants in 1845, followed by the Catholics. The rift between Christian and non-Christian tribals was visible in 1947-48. Concerned with the growing influence of Christians, Sarna leaders formed a ‘Sudhar Sabha,’ notes academic Dr. Alex Ekka in an essay on the Jharkhand movement.

The former captain of the Indian hockey team, Jaipal Singh Munda, is credited with getting equal rights including reservations for Christian tribals, as a member of the Constituent Assembly. A few Sarna leaders opposed this move then. Congress MP Kartik Oraon introduced a bill in Parliament in 1968 to de-schedule Christian tribals, albeit unsuccessfully.

The Jan Sangh and the RSS began making inroads in the Chotanagpur region in the 1960s, initiating developmental activities in forest villages to counter the growing reach of Christian missionaries. While the VKA already has a strong presence in the Gumla and Latehar districts of West Jharkhand, more recently it has focused on increasing its influence in Sahebganj and Pakur along the State’s border with West Bengal, close to Bangladesh. Both districts feature in a map of areas from Uttar Pradesh to the north-east as “Areas of high Muslim and Christian influence” in a publication by Sankat Mochan Ashram, New Delhi.

“The church was trying to proselytize in Pakur but slowed down after we increased our presence. We recently performed ghar-waapsi for 50 families there. Sarna groups are doing re-conversions themselves now; we prefer it this way. We explain to them that 2000 years ago, we worshipped trees. Sarnas are Hindu too,” says Prakash Kamat, the Bihar-Jharkhand zonal secretary of the VKA.

Tribals constitute 26.3 per cent of Jharkhand’s population. According to the 2001 Census, of the State’s population of 3.29 crore, 68.5 per cent are Hindus and 13.8 per cent are Muslims. Only four per cent follow Christianity. Though Sarnas, who worship their ancestors and nature, are not counted separately, they make up most of the ‘Other’ category, estimated at 11 to 13 per cent of the population. Sarna groups claim that the actual numbers may be higher, given the absence of a separate category for them. A common perception is that despite their small numbers, Christian tribals have better access to higher education and jobs. Whether due to economic disparities or the stoking of enmities by different religious groups, the chasm between Sarna and Christian tribals has widened.

A deep divide

The most stark instance of this was in 2013 when a spate of protests erupted in Ranchi soon after the Cardinal Telesphore Toppo unveiled the statue of a “tribal” Mary — a dark-skinned Mother Mary wearing a white and red saree and bangles, holding an infant Jesus in a sling, as is common among tribal women. Sarna dharamguru Bandhan Tigga, considered more moderate than Ajay Tirkey’s group, gave the Church three months to remove the statue, describing it as a conversion tactic. In August, over 3,000 Sarna tribals marched to the site, a small Catholic church in Singpur on Ranchi’s outskirts, threatening to bring it down. The police imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code in the area to stop the protesters. Three days later, a FIR was registered against members of Sarna groups after they threatened families in Ormanjhi, 50 km from Singpur, who had converted to Protestantism several years ago, to re-convert to Sarna religion within a week, even breaking the gate of the house of one of the families.

Sources close to the Cardinal claim he had not known that the statue was that of a “tribal” Mary before he reached the parish for the inauguration, but have chosen to stay silent, fearing that a step back now may only weaken the church’s position. Before this, in 2008, the church was on the back foot when Sarna groups questioned the ‘Nemha Bible’ published by a Lutheran church in the tribal language, Kuduk, which they said contained portions offensive to animistic worship.

In Singpur, the residents still recount last year’s protests cautiously. “Thousands marched from Dhurva to the parish. While the march had been called by Sarna groups, several Bajrang Dal members wearing saffron bands marched with them. Even tribals from neighbouring Odisha, Chhattisgarh districts reached here,” recalled a member of the community. It was done by evoking Sarnas’ pride, say Dharam Jagran members.

Lok Sabha Palamu, Chatra: From jungles to the Parliament

TMC Candidate Kameshwar Baitha 1

The Hindu

In Haidarnagar market in Palamu district in Jharkhand, an area with a significant presence of Maoists, the roads are lined with red flags with images of Hanuman stitched over them. At the crossroad in the market, Bhojpuri songs blare out of loudspeakers kept in a mini truck. These are also used to announce that Kameshwar Baitha, the sitting Member of Parliament from Palamu will be holding a nukkad sabha.

In 2009, Mr. Baitha, a former Maoist commander, won the Lok Sabha elections from Palamu while serving a prison term in Bihar. He had commandeered the Koel-Sankh zone of the CPI (Maoist) along the Jharkhand-Chhattisgarh border. He won after defeating political heavyweights like the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Ghuran Ram. After being elected to Parliament, Mr. Baitha spent another two years and 7 months in jail, getting bail only towards the end of 2011.

Last month, Mr. Baitha switched from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha to the Trinamool Congress after it became known that the RJD and its ruling coalition partners, the JMM and the Congress would field a common candidate. The constituency is reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates. Among Mr. Baitha’s rivals this time is former chief of the Jharkhand police, Vishnu Dayal Ram, who is known for his term as Superintendent of Police in Bihar’s Bhagalpur when the infamous jail blinding incident took place there.

Mr. Baitha arrives dressed in a white kurta-pajama. He makes a brisk round of the market and shakes hands with shopkeepers and customers. He is stocky, with matted hair and a bushy moustache. Climbing atop a jeep, he then goes on to address a gathering.
TMC Candidate Kameshwar Baitha 2

“When I walked with a gun as a Maoist,” Mr. Baitha says, “I realised three things ail Palamu: unemployment, akaal (drought), and Naxalvaad (Naxalism). Mothers send their children to wash dishes in hotels, or to carry dung at landlords farms. Adults here migrate in distress to work in more developed States. Unemployment, hunger, oppression, and destruction of our culture is what causes Naxalvaad. Operation Greenhunt can never
end it,” says Baitha, as a crowd of men listens intently, while a few women watch from afar.

“By electing me, you made a social revolution possible. But I ask for your vote again to make an economic revolution this time,” he concludes, offering sattu (gram flour) water to those gathered.

Land wars, caste disparities

Back in his white SUV, Mr. Baitha explains what he means by an economic revolution.

“Palamu is an agricultural area. For the poor people’s lives to improve, the farmers need more watershed projects to irrigate their fields. Palamu’s farmers need effective land redistribution,” he says. Mr. Baitha’s nephew Mukesh Baitha sits at the back of his car, armed with a gun. A jeep full of armed police personnel is at the head of his ten-car cavalcade passing through the broken road winding through wheat fields.

In Palamu, as in entire Bihar, feudalism and the subsequent marginalisation of the lower castes, who were also landless, created a fertile ground for unrest. During the 70s, many low-caste tillers who got no relief from land reform movements joined the Maoists.

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Mr. Baitha, born in a mine worker’s family in a village in undivided Bihar’s Bishrampur, recollects he had joined the Maoist group Party Unity in the late 1980s after the Arwal massacre in which 21 supporters of the left-wing Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (MKSS) were killed in police firing.

From the 1990s until now, Palamu has repeatedly figured among India’s poorest districts. Splinter groups such as Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee have prolifered here since the early 2000s, which Maoists allege receive police aid. In this complex milieu came Kameshwar Baitha’s unprecedented win of 2009.

At Devrikhurd village, when he stops at a paan shop, Vijay Mehta, a farmer, complains that this is Mr. Baitha’s first tour of the village after being elected. Mr. Baitha asks for forgiveness. “I got only two years and five months of my term to work,” he says. He points to a sheesham tree nearby. “If you plant a seed and it does not sprout to become a tall tree at first, will you not give it a second chance?”

At Gayabheega tola, there are several concrete houses but people from the Ravidas SC community live in thatched huts outside the main village. An old woman in a red sari, Sarda Devi, scolds Mr. Baitha for having failed to ensure that she received her widow pension. Mr. Baitha chats with her and her family and asks them to allow him to screen a CD inside their house. “This CD has recordings of the 258 questions I raised in Parliament on the Japla cement factory near here, on minerals use, on inflation,” he says as the group watches a recording of him taking oath in Parliament.

Many youngsters here have migrated to cities in search of livelihood. But several families still depend on the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme that they say is riddled with corruption. “You have been our old leader since the time we were young, but see what you can do for our livelihood,” the villagers tell Mr. Baitha as they affectionately bid him farewell in the night.

Rooting for a change

In the neighbouring Chatra constituency, former Maoist commander Ranjan Yadav is fighting on a Samajwadi Party ticket. In 2009, while serving a prison term, Mr. Yadav had unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections on a Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) ticket. Later he joined the RJD and tried lobbying with the party supremo Lalu Prasad while the latter was in Ranchi jail after being convicted in the fodder scam. After the RJD gave up the claim to field a candidate from Chatra, allowing its coalition partner Congress to field Dheeraj Sahu, Mr. Yadav switched to the SP. The constituency consists of the tribal-dominated forested Latehar district and the plains region of Chatra that has a significant population of Scheduled Castes and backward castes.

“In Mahuadan in Latehar, and in many parts of Chatra, there is no electricity even after 60 years of independence. Big corporations mine coal and iron ore but children in villages cannot even attend a good school. These are issues I want to raise through politics,” says Mr. Yadav in a white dhoti in his sparsely furnished house, still under construction in Namkum on the Ranchi border.

Since Ranjan Yadav joined mainstream politics, the CPI (Maoist) has issued public statements dubbing him as a traitor. Last September, the local CPI (Maoist) leader Sudhir issued a six-page statement against Mr. Yadav and two others — Yugal Pal, a former member of the Maoist’s zonal committee who had announced that he plans to join the All Jharkhand Students Union and former sub-zonal commander Vinod Sharma — saying anyone supporting their candidature will be tried by a jan adalat (people’s court). Mr. Yadav says he fears for his life after the fatwa which he finds unjust. Yugal Pal has since withdrawn his announcement.

Mr. Yadav recounts he had joined the Party Unity in 1990 at the age of 23 while working as a petty contractor in Palamu. “The party did a lot of good work for ordinary villagers — building checkdams, schools in Garhwa. During marriages, we would distribute utensils. But I have stopped believing we will come to power through an armed revolution,” he says.

Mr. Yadav says the Maoists have weakened because some opportunists have joined them and also because of increased police pressure. “There have been instances where the relatives of party members have become contractors. The contractors would try to bribe commanders saying they keep a cut for themselves instead of collecting funds for the party alone.”

The Maoists have accused Mr. Yadav of collaborating with the police in paramilitary operations against the Maoists. He refutes the allegations. “The CPI (Maoist) have lost their hold in Chatra because of the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee. The police is exploiting cracks within the party by supporting such splinter groups,” he said referring to a Maoist splinter group formed in early 2000s by Brajesh Ghanju citing that Ghanju dalits were not treated on par with the Yadav who then dominated the top posts then. “I have not asked for TSPC for their support but I have told them not to disturb my workers and that we won’t disturb theirs,” said Mr. Yadav of his relationship with the TSPC.