Maskoor Ahmad Usmani, the former President of the Aligarh Muslim University Students’ Union is the Congress’s candidate for the Jaale constituency in upcoming elections in Bihar. In this interview with TwoCircles.net, Usmani talks about plans to fight his maiden elections in the political turf of Bihar, why the NDA government has failed and what he seeks to change for the poor and marginalized of the state.
By Maariyah Siddique, TwoCircles.net
TCN: With no big rallies and public meetings due to COVID-19, how are you reaching out to people in this paradigm shift in electioneering and greater dependence on technology?
Usmani: We are following all COVID-19 guidelines and since it’s the first election after the pandemic so it is altogether a new experience. However, this has turned out advantageous for us because we are able to connect with people closely. I am doing a door-to-door campaign and this is turning out to be more effective than about 2 or 3 of us in groups visiting people at their homes and talking to them. It gives us better communication and understanding of issues that matter most.
With this door-to-door campaign, we are directly reaching out to our people, which usually doesn’t happen during big rallies and online campaigns. In the process, we are getting to know people better. There are problems in any kind of electioneering and there are bound to be disadvantages. For instance, in big rallies, people are able to connect with a mass audience at one go and right now with physically visiting people it takes a lot of hard work and determination but that is where the learning lies. If I as a youth I am trying to become the representative of people, it is equally important for me to stay close to my people. Since I have to become a people’s leader I am not scared of hard work.
TCN: Bihar is the first state to go to polls in the amidst COVID-19 pandemic and added destruction by severe floods affecting nearly 18 districts. What are the issues you are planning to resolve and what would you do to bring relief to the affected people?
Usmani: We have four main issues to look after – Education, Healthcare, Unemployment and Farmer’s security.
In the education sector as an immediate step, we are planning to open free Gandhi libraries for children in every village. We want our children to be educated so they can have better opportunities. The people of Bihar now are fed up with dirty politics. They want clean politics where leaders talk about a golden future for their children and the youth.
The healthcare sector of Bihar is a failure. Why do patients go outside Bihar for treatment? Because the hospitals here lack basic equipment and facilities. The buildings and dispensaries are in ruins in this state.
Sometimes patients have to travel to cities which take them hours, adding to the cost of medical care. As a doctor myself, it is my responsibility to build better clinics with well-equipped healthcare in my own constituency. We will work for improving medical facilities so that people should have access to good healthcare in their own constituency.
As a quick and effective response to floods, we will facilitate compensation for those who have lost their homes, property, and crops in the floods. It is already decided that in the first Vidhan Sabha meeting we plan to address farmer grievances of loans. Farmers do not get loans in the proper time. Sometimes the delays by banks are so long that if a farmer applies for a loan in the Rabi season, it gets passed by Kharif season and vice versa. So if Jaale chooses me as their leader I will make sure we have quick facilitating systems for banks to pass loans quickly.
Also, when crops are destroyed due to floods and monsoons, farmers don’t get compensation. If I win, we will primarily work on giving compensation to farmers who have lost their livelihoods and homes in the destructive floods. By choosing me, the people will choose someone who will stand by them and with them.
TCN: Bihar’s unemployment rate has increased to 46.6% in April 2020, as per a survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). With the falling economy, migrant returns and pressure on creating jobs for the passing out graduates, how do you plan to address this big poll issue?
Usmani: Unemployment has risen alarmingly. The NDA government had promised to open new industries and run older ones but they haven’t opened or reopened a single industry. To address this we have already planned that our first cabinet meeting would discuss employment in Bihar and we will start by providing jobs to 10 lakh youth and accumulating them in permanent jobs.
38 sugar mills in Bihar are closed and paper mills are non-functional. All these things have forced labourers in the state to migrate to other places, so this is actually the state forcibly creating migrant labourers.
The migrant labourers who have walked 2000 kilometres and more know the pain of every single decimal. They will definitely show the ruling government its real position).
TCN: The failing healthcare in Bihar was under sharp focus leading the ruling dispensation to work on it. Lately, the government has shown consistently falling fatality and positivity rates and an increase in testing for the disease. What do you have to say about the veracity of the figures?
Usmani: They (government) have done nothing in the health sector. In fact, the pandemic has exposed Bihar’s failed healthcare sector more than any other state in India. There is a vacancy for 15000 nurses and a dearth of thousands of doctors in Bihar’s government hospitals. The ruling dispensation has not filled this basic requirement and then they are showing fabricated figures claiming that Bihar’s healthcare has improved. Who is the government trying to fool? The people of Bihar are well informed about these things.
Let’s take the example of Patna, the capital city of Bihar. The condition of Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) is worsening. If it rains continuously for two days, the ICU of PMCH turns into a drain with knee-deep water. This is the condition in Patna city’s most famous hospital. This is the real state of Bihar’s healthcare sector.
Bihar’s respected Chief Minister Nitish Kumar says that Bihar has got a beacon of progress. I am telling him that had Bihar received even a ray of hope, the hospitals of the capital city would not turn into a drain overnight.
TCN: The PM had said during a launch of projects that Centre had followed the Bihar model for the farm reform bills. With growing protests and war of words concerning the same, what do you have to say about reform bills getting traction in Bihar?
Usmani: They are not getting any traction. The public in Bihar knows things. They answer once every 5 years and this time the people of Jaale (the constituency Usmani is fighting from) know the truth about the Farm Reform Bill. This bill is totally against farmers and is built on overexploiting farmers without giving them their due.
After knowing the reality of all these issues, people will vote for the palm this time and those who vote for the palm will actually be slapping the NDA government for its inefficiency.
TCN: With nearly 30 lakh returning migrants and the approaching festive season scheduled in October-November, how are you planning to address migrant workers’ grievances caused by the lockdown and job loss?
Usmani: The important question is, why do migrant labourers migrate? The reason why Bihar’s poor have to travel to other states is that the government has not created any jobs for them. In Bihar, there are no industries where they can work. The current ruling government in Bihar had promised to create jobs and make industries but the irony is the state’s poor work only in farms and even the farms are not proper enough to work in.
TCN: If you win, what are your plans for the marginalized and minorities in your constituency?
Usmani: Education is the most important issue. In Jaale, even after over 70 years of independence 35% of people still do a thumb signature. My aim as the leader for the upcoming 5 years would be to increase the literacy rate from 65% to 90% in Jaale. We will take every child to school. Those who are unable to get an education, we will hold their fingers like our own child’s and take them to school. We will work for education irrespective of caste, religion or class. Further, those who are in school must graduate to colleges and the college-goers must be able to attend universities. Our attempt will be to make education accessible to every child in Bihar because an educated society is a successful society.
TCN: What are your plans for those affected by floods at Jaale?
Usmani: The worst affected people in Jaale are farmers. We promise them that we will work to ensure that it does not happen next time. We will work towards making the crops flood-resistant and the fields flood-tolerant so that next time we are prepared and losses are not massive. This is what we have heard as the demand of our people at Jaale.
During my door-to-door campaign, we got to know from people that the farmers, from long, have been requesting the present representative at Jaale to develop flood-resistant farming methods but there has been no response so far. After the floods also, people requested the government that they don’t want rebuilding of homes, food or compensation but instead, they want the government to spend on flood-resistant farming practices to secure the livelihoods of farmers and that would be the government’s biggest favour on them. When we are voted to power, we will ensure this happens at the earliest because Vidhan Sabhas are here for exactly that – to understand the local needs and if necessary, even fight the state governments to stand shoulder and toes with the local public.
TCN: What is your planning and expectations from bellwether seats?
Usmani: Public wants change. They want better education and a financially secure society. We talk about progress, education and a better society. With COVID-19 here, now we know the reality of Bihar’s failed healthcare. Being a doctor myself, I know the condition of the state’s medical units. Modi had said in 2014 elections that he would build an AIIMS at Darbhanga. He repeated the same again in the 2015 elections and then again in 2020. He is saying there will be another AIIMS in Darbhanga. In his nearly 6 years term, Modi has spoken about 3 AIIMS but has not given even one. If you talk about bellwether seats, the public knows better who to trust this time.
People have already seen what the ones they elected have done. This time I am sure they will want to give someone else the chance. This time, I am sure people will choose me. The love that I am getting as a youth leader, I am hopeful that people will elect the right candidate.
TCN: As Dalit issues have taken precedence over minority rights and Dalit leaders like Jitan Ram Manjhi and Shyam Razak switching sides, how do you think their behaviour might affect the community which makes up nearly 16% of the state population?
Usmani: They are not leaders of Dalits, as they are claiming to be. These leaders who are switching sides have not done anything about Dalit issues. It was Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi who have been adamantly raising their voices in the case of Hathras victim. It was them who went to support her family despite being lathi-charged and being dragged to the ground. This is what leadership is and not what Jitan Ram Manjhi and Shyam Razak are portraying. They are Dalit leaders only before elections and when the polls end, these Dalit leaders are living lavish lives inside AC rooms. They have absolutely nothing to do with their community or their issues. It is the Congress party who has been talking about Dalit issues.
TCN: With decisions on Ram Mandir and Article 370 no more creating the same effect on the state’s minority population, and the buzz over CAA also subsiding due to the pandemic, what do you have to say about minorities en masse votes being affected as they could potentially impact results on nearly 80 assembly seats?
Usmani: Minorities have always chosen the leaders who stay close to the people and those who work on improving the ground reality. For a long time, minorities have trusted and supported Congress and this time also Congress has given equal and fair representation to all castes. Minorities understand that they must elect the youth this time irrespective of caste, faith or class if they want real progress.
The mahagathbandan (alliance) that has been formed this time has kept in mind the problems and issues of all kinds of castes and classes in society. We have taken into consideration everyone especially Dalits and minorities, and all those that are placed on the lowest rung in society.