Patna: A Reserve Bank of India report in 2013 had said 33.74 per cent of Bihar’s population lives below the poverty line. And yet, in the upcoming assembly elections, the first phase of which takes place next Wednesday, Bihar seems to be overflowing with crorepati candidates.
According to a report released by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) Tuesday, as many as 375 of the 1,064 candidates in the fray in the first phase of the polls have assets worth over Rs 1 crore, going by the affidavits they have filed with the Election Commission.
The percentage of crorepati candidates is much higher for the major parties. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) is fielding 35 candidates in the first phase, of which 31 are crorepatis, with assets averaging Rs 8.12 crore. Ally BJP’s crorepati count is 24 out of 29, with an average worth of Rs 3.10 crore.
On the opposition side, the Rashtriya Janata Dal also has a long list of crorepatis — 39 of its 42 first-phase candidates fit the bill, with an average holding of Rs 6.98 crore.
The richest candidate in the fray is RJD’s Anant Singh, the don-turned-politician who is currently in jail on UAPA charges. Singh, who is contesting from Mokama, has declared assets worth Rs 68 crore.
Next on the list is Gajanand Shahi of the Congress — a part of the landed gentry — with Rs assets of 61 crore. He is contesting from Barbigha in Sheikhpura district.
Shahi is followed by Manorama Devi of the JD(U) from Atri in Gaya district (Rs 53 crore). She is the wife of late gangster Bindi Yadav, known as the ‘terror of Gaya’.
According to the ADR report, around 11 per cent of candidates have not provided their PAN details or income tax returns. Five candidates have shown assets up to Rs 95 lakh without disclosing their I-T returns.
Money and muscle power
For a long time, Bihar has had a propensity towards a combination of money and muscle power in politics. Rich candidates have made their fortunes through the construction business, getting lease on public spaces like bus stands and parking lots, as well as avenues like crime, and now that alcohol prohibition is in force, bootlegging too.
Anant Singh built his business empire through the construction of malls and hotels when he was close to Nitish Kumar. Manorama Devi’s late husband Bindi Yadav was involved in many illegal activities, including supplying arms to Naxalites, for which he was charged in a sedition case in Gaya.
Rama Singh is another ‘bahubali’ (strongman) and former LJP MP, who made a lot of money from government deals through his alleged closeness to that party’s founder, the late Ram Vilas Paswan. His wife Bina Devi is contesting on an RJD ticket from Vaishali district.
Shaibal Gupta, member secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute in Patna, explains this combination of money and muscle power by saying: “In Bihar, those who have money want to be lawmakers because there is no industry, or anything else to invest in, unlike other states where industrialists are even more powerful than lawmakers. Political parties have adopted them.”