Darbhanga (Bihar), Nov 4 (IANS) Residents admit that roads and power supply have certainly improved in the last five years in north Bihar which will see voting for the Bihar assembly on Thursday. But in the end, say voters, it is caste that will count.
The Mithilanchal region is known for its rich cultural and historical heritage. But it remains mostly undeveloped, with lack of employment and pathetic condition of fisheries forcing migration in large numbers.
The East-West corridor, which passes through Darbhanga and Madhubani districts, has made life easier for locals. Also, roads from the interior villages are surprisingly equally good.
The success story -- if one may call it so -- ends there.
As one enters Darbhanga town, the roads are congested, traffic is lawless and the quality of life poor.
Tower Chowk, at the heart of Darbhanga town, seems covered with dirt. But no one appears to be bothered.
In all the 20 assembly constituencies of Darbhanga (10) and Madhubani (10) districts, it is a straight contest between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Grand Alliance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Caste, everyone says, will be the major factor when people vote on Thursday.
The NDA is mostly banking on Brahmins, Bhumihars, Banias, Dalits and Mahadalits while the Grand Alliance is dominantly expecting Yadav, Muslim, Koeri and Kurmi votes.
In the 2010 assembly election, the Bharatiya Janata Party won nine seats whereas the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), then its ally, won six and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) won five seats.
After the JD-U quit the NDA and joined hands with RJD, the political equation of the region has changed, political activists say.
The BJP is now contesting 13 seats, leaving four for the Lok Janshakti Party and two for the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party. The Hindustani Awam Morcha is in contest in one constituency.
In the Grand Alliance, the JD-U is contesting on eight seats, the RJD on 10 and the Congress on two seats.
"Caste equation favours the Grand Alliance. But Modi is also a key factor. He has addressed four rallies which will have an impact," said Rakesh Anand of Madhubani.
In Madhubani, the BJP has fielded Ram Deo Mahato, who has represented the seat since 2000. Taking him on is RJD's Samir Kumar Mahaseth, son of former Bihar minister Raj Kumar Mahaseth.
The Samajwadi Party's Naiyar Azam is also in the fray.
The 3.15 lakh electorate includes some 60,000 Muslim and Brahmin voters each. Keots and Mallah are also in significant number.
In Darbhanga town, the contest is between BJP's outgoing legislator Sanjay Sarawgi and RJD's Mitthu Khedia, a four-term mayor. BJP rebel Jagdish Shah, a former district president, is an independent candidate.
"Shah should have been given a chance. So there is anger among a section of the party," said Raju Daruka, who runs a textile shop near Tower Chowk.
Pitambar Jha, a former soldier, looks fed up with the condition of heritage buildings and temples.
"See this Ugranath Mandir... It could have developed as a tourist centre but no one has the vision. There are lots of temples. Go and see the condition of Kusheshwarsthan temple," he said in disgust.
"No one cares even about Darbhanga Raj. Rambagh Fort is also in poor condition. The same is true for Bela Palace and Darbhanga Museum. No one talks about them as it does not fetch voters," Bablu Thakur, a student of Sanskrit University in Darbhanga, told IANS.