A city of contrasts, Bodhgaya

Bodhgaya is a city of contrasts. As the city holds Assembly polls, the contrasts come to fore all the more with people voicing their aspirations and concerns openly.

Bodhgaya: Bodhgaya is a city of
contrasts. As the city holds Assembly polls, the contrasts
come to fore all the more with people voicing their
aspirations and concerns openly.

While on one hand, tourists flock Bodhgaya town
giving it a cosmopolitan look, the villages remain largely
quagmired in backwardness even as large part of rural
Bodhgaya have come under naxal influence.

Tourism is the bread and butter of residents here in
absence of any major industry. With the boom in tourism after
improvement in law and order, the burgeoning hotel industry in
Bodhgaya town has offered a window of opportunity to the
village youths to self-finance their studies.

Chintu Kumar of Sakhwara village works as a waiter in
Hotel Buddha International. But he has not left his studies
and is enrolled in a regular course of BA. He is not the lone
youth who is bitten by this part-time job bug.

Most of the youths have learnt the art on job without
any professional training.

"There are a lot of students from nearby villages who
double up as hotel staff while they also continue with their
studies. There are also some girls, who are doing it. Girls
are mostly working at reception or similar public interface
job," says Pintu, a resident of Tika bigha village, who works
as a Head Cook in the same hotel.

There are over 50 medium and small hotels in Bodhgaya
and each of them employs between 10 to 20 people as their
staff, Kishori Kumar of Mocharim village said.

But the Assembly segment has another side to it.
Rural parts of the constituency do not appear even distinctly
related to Bodhgaya town.

A large chunk of the township, where Lord Buddha got
enlightenment and devotees come from far off Europe and Asia
to seek peace and solace is now highly sensitive from naxal
point of view.

A whopping 149 of 286 polling booths of the
constituency fall in highly sensitive category.

Recently carried delimitation exercise has only
sharpened this divide with areas of Fatehpur and Tankuppa
block now becoming part of Bodhgaya constituency. This area,
with forests and hills around it, is home to Maoists.

As one enters the interiors, the signs of
international status of Bodhgaya city are nowhere to be seen.

The mythological Falgu River, also known as Niranjana, acts as
great divider of identities.

Even in the Bodhgaya town, nestled amid dazzling
Buddhist stupas and Budh Viharas, the Mahadalits have their
own set of problems. "Seeing our houses, people think we are rich.

But there is no job. Men mostly work as labourers at construction
site. And whatever little they earn, they squander in liquor.

It’s difficult to make both ends meet for women who look after
the families," says Usha Devi in Ransingh Premdasa Budhgaya
Gama founded by former Srilankan President.

One hundred houses were constructed for the Mahadalits
of the nearby villages almost two decades back. The plaque
at the site describes the colony as "awakened village
consisting of 100 houses". But no sign of awakening is

Villagers get almost round the clock power but there
is no actual empowerment. The condition of Mushar, one of the
Mahadalit communities, is pathetic and begging has become a
part of their life.

There are government schools in the area but it is
actually the private schools run by various Indian and
international NGOs that are imparting education.

"Children do not go to government schools. They read
in Sanstha schools. Lot of foreign funded schools run here,"
says Wakeel Choudhury.

"Most of those who enrol in government schools attend
classes in private schools, where teaching quality is better.

But for certificate, the government institutions are
required," says another youth.

This is the fourth election in a little more than five
years for Bodhgaya residents with the last being the Assembly
by-election in 2009 after sitting BJP MLA Hari Manjhi resigned
from the seat after becoming an MP in last Lok Sabha

Sitting MLA Kumar Sarvajeet from Ram Vilas Paswan’s
Lok Janshakti Party is locked into a triangular contest in
this reserved constituency with BJP`s Shyamdeo Paswan and
Congress’s Balik Ram.

LJP`s alliance with Lalu Prasad`s RJD could come to
his aid in this constituency where Yadavs also have a sizeable
population. BJP candidate banks on the state government`s
development agenda.

Except the Congress candidate, who is from Ravidas
community, all others belong to Paswan caste. Votes of Yadavs,
Muslims and Manjhis (Mushars) and smaller caste groups will
play a key role in the election as the Scheduled Caste voters
appear divided.

Sarvajeet is son of former Gaya MP Rajesh Kumar, who
was murdered during Assembly elections in 2005. Sarvajeet won
the Bodhgaya seat in a by-election in 2009 after the seat fell
vacant when BJP MLA from Bodhgaya Hari Manjhi resigned from
the seat after becoming an MP.

Balik Ram is a veteran, who had won the seat in 1980
as a CPI candidate and has good rapport with voters in this
once Left bastion.

BJP has replaced Vijay Manjhi, who had lost out to
Kumar Sarvajeet in the last election.

"We earlier used to vote for Vijay Manjhi. Now the BJP
has fielded a Paswan candidate. Hence we have to think of the
option," says Shankar Manjhi in Mastipur village.

Bodhgya which had been a cradle of Marxism after
independence also saw lotus bloom in the region with BJP
winning the seat in last election wresting the Assembly seat
from two time winner RJD.