Sunday, May 28, 2017

Witness to Municipal Election at Shiekhpura

Witness to Municipal Election at Shiekhpura
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I just witnessed a municipal corporation election at my native place in Shiekhpura, Bihar where my friend Pawan’s wife have won the election.  Today I got a call from Pawan saying he is huddled in Bhutan in a star hotel along with 13 other winners.

Pawan seem to be pleased with himself when he called me to break the news that I already had got from my contacts in Shiekhpura, along with the news that he was absconding from the place.

Its first i saw the electoral campaign of a municipal election from such a close quarters. It made me understand the working of the Indian democratic process at the grass root level and the way the electoral dynamics operate at the bottom of the Indian democratic pyramid.

Well Municipal Corporation is a British gift and each town or a city of India is divided into several wards. The bifurcation of ward is done based on the electoral size and normally each ward comprises of 25,000 or more eligible voters. Each ward covers few localities and a number of candidates contest from each ward.

The new trend in India is that most of the seats of municipal ward are reserved for female candidate, perhaps
it’s an effort by the government towards women empowerment.  However, in reality women are just for namesake candidates and it is the husbands of the women who actually call the shots and in reality contests the election in the wife’s name.

The second feature of such election is this is controlled by some heavyweight politicians of the city. He belongs to some political party, and he pulls the strings from behind, fielding his own candidate from each ward.

After the election is over and the head count takes place, the one who can get the maximum number of the winning candidate to its side, appoints a candidate to become the chairman of the municipal corporation. By doing so he actually controls the funds that come into the municipal corporation in the form of property tax water tax etc.  

No wonder there is a fierce competition to win the election and a huge amount is spent on the candidates and on the electorates to woo them to vote for their candidate. Those who pull the strings cough of all the expenses of the electoral campaign.

The electoral process begins with the filing of the nomination by the female candidate. The husband takes his wife for doing that formality and normally it takes place in a huge procession to reach the electoral office. It’s a big show of strength and the one who can get the largest number of volunteers assembled are expected to win. People are ferried in farm tractors, small trucks, cars jeeps and auto rickshaws to the electoral office.

After the nomination is over, the real candidate’s goes back to the house and remain indoors and monitor her campaign. It’s the husband who takes the driving seat and controls the election campaign.

Normally it could be about 500 volunteers’ surround the probable winning candidate. They are mix of juvenile boys, old ladies and middle aged men. They get wage ranging from 100 to 500 rupee daily, plus two square meal and unaccounted number of tea and cool drinks.

Their job is to report in the morning and go around in procession shouting slogans for the candidate and asking votes for her. They hold placards and distribute handbills and stick posters. Some places a vehicle accompany the procession and a pre-recorded tape is played asking for vote for the candidate.

In between the electoral message, the vehicle belt out a rocking Bhojpuri number and the young volunteers erupts into rustic dancing on its earthy tune. This electrifying moment is watched by many passers-by as they stand to watch the fun.  

 The polling day is very crucial and each candidate deploys its volunteers to get the voters to the polling booth. Lot of effort is made for this and at the end of the day of the voting, it becomes clear who will win the seat. The formality of announcing the results is done on the vote counting day, which is a big day for the wining candidate.

In Shiekhpra, its Vijay Samrat and Shambhu Yadav, the two emerging names in political arena are slugging it out to control the municipal cooperation election. Both belong to same locality and both fielded their wives against each other.

The latest news is; it’s Shambhu’s wife who has won the election and she is touted to be the chairman of Sheikhpura’s municipal corporation.  Shambhu Yadav in order to avoid any horse trading by his rival has huddled 14 of its winning candidate’s husbands into Bhutan. More than that, he has given each of candidates 5 lakhs rupees to keep their loyalty intact to him.

My friend Pawan who called me today was narrating his experiences at Bhutan. There was a sense of jubilation sparkle in his voice and he seems to be rejoicing at the place where he was staying.

I remember when I was talking to him during the campaign about where he will go after winning the election and what would be his asking rate, he just smiled and giggled at me then, I knew he will win anyway….    

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He comes from Shiekhpura, Bihar and just returned from the election scene. He can be contacted at

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Autobiography of an Unknown Indian

Autobiography of an Unknown Indian  
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Life they say is a journey and each of us has been treading its beautiful path with its own twists and turns.  I am sure there are many who may have sketched their fascinating stories of life in words with great distinction, my attempt of doing the same is with a caveat that let it be a whimper tell-tale of an unknown Indian.

I lay no claim on Shakespearean prose or making an attempt to become a novelist, I am only trying to unburden myself, recalling the adventures of my life so far I have lived. My attempt is to weave a fascinating story about the trail and tabulation that I have undergone so far and the purpose is self-satisfaction recalling the lessons of life and remembering some of its bitter truths.

Essentially, my story revolves around the trials of getting educated, and then finding a job all by oneself. Beginning from village school and sitting on the floor on gunny bags and at one time being contemplated to be sent to religious seminary to become a cleric its hell of a journey.

It’s only an accident of fate that put me in English medium school from where I started my formal education journey. I started it from a convent at small town called Munger, Bihar and to be followed by further schooling at Delhi and then college at the AMU Aligarh and university at the JNU New Delhi.

In the educational journey I saw many high profile campuses like SOAS, Oxford, Cambridge and University of Hawaii etc. Every academic spot that I have seen has a fascinating story of its own.

My second trail was the struggle for getting a job and I realized that no matter how much one is educated or academically sound, there is little connection between education and job. The lesson learnt is getting a job could be chasing a shadow, if you do not have right connection in the right place.

My third trial was to find a match and arranged marriage again put me into hell of a trouble. The broken marriage left behind wounds wanting to be repaired. I was lucky to get them healed and found happiness with a new partner in life.

Finally, my current struggle is to get hold of my ancestral property on which many of my relatives are sitting like sharks attempting to dispossess me from my legal claim. I am waking up to this grim reality and fighting court battles to get back the property that is mine.  

My roots belong to in a farming family in Bihar and we are settled there since a century or more. My ancestral place is a village called Manay in Shiekhpura district that’s about 100 miles from the state capital Patna. My family owns landed property there and I got land records that dates back to 1800s.

My family has seen high level of education and members are engaged in professions like lawyer, doctor, engineer, administrator and professors etc. Some are settled abroad in England and America and their off springs are doing very well there. I feel pride that even with all this growth, farming still continues to be my family vocation.

I had my early education in the historical town called Munger, which is fifty miles from Shiekhpura. Then, at the age of 12, I was packed off to New Delhi for school education. I did graduation and post-graduation at AMU Aligarh and came back to Delhi for MPhil / PhD at JNU. After finishing studies it’s the job pursuit that brought me to South India, where I am currently located.

My first recollection of life’s journey is the dream of a becoming a famous footballer in the country. I have been quite passionate about this sport and can say that I did spend about 15 years pursuing this dream. I remember putting 8 hours a day, undergoing rigorous training schedule to become a professional footballer.
My efforts ended up with representing KVS at the 23rd school national games at Amritsar. There I met stalwarts like Milkha Singh, Ajit pal Singh etc.  I have the satisfaction of playing for the AMU team which became champion at the all India inter-varsity competition.

I played along with some top notch names like; Mahmud Khabazi, Majid Beshkar, Jamshed Nasari (all Iranians). They all became very famous footballers in the country. Besides I also played ‘A’ division clubs and travelled across the country to play in different tournaments.    

Suddenly, a withdrawal symptom developed inside me and I got withdrawn from the sports all together. This was when I was graduating at AMU when I felt it’s time to get serious with life. I realiz
ed that studies alone can fetch me decent living and this change of heart changed the course of my life. I totally changed my life style and from a sportsperson I became studious yogi! I was putting long hours in studies and the efforts resulted in first divisions at the graduation and post-graduation levels.

After that I set the target of becoming an IAS officer. I lived with this dream for quite some time and spent some of the most precious years of my life chasing this national hobby. It’s only those who have undergone the rigorous study schedule of this competitive exam will know what kind of grind is required to chasing such a dream.  I did made an honest attempt but my efforts were not good enough to cross all the hurdles of this exam, though I could manage to crack its two levels.

However, in the pursuit of my IAS dream, I did become reasonably educated. I extended my educational journey to gain higher academic degrees. I took pride in earning MPhil and PhD degrees and the consolation of getting field trip to England for pursuing doctoral research.

By the time I was closing my university years, I established myself as an emerging scholar. I had two books and several research papers on south Asian affairs. As a political commentator, I also contributed write-ups in many newspapers.

After that the job hunt was a killing experience. I did appear for interview at many Delhi colleges but then I realized its different ball game to get a teaching job. Eventually, it was job rejection in teaching arena that made me change the course of life once again.  I waited long enough and with such high academic credentials, I could have been adjusted in a decent academic institution if I had the right connections at right place.

 However, when nothing was coming my way and was contemplating to give it up, another twist in my life took place. I was offered a job at a newspaper in Hyderabad just based on my resume and so started a new journey in my life.

Life as a Journalist was quite a different from the world of academia. Meeting with people having larger than life size image was a colourful experience. Even though I spent about 15 years as a working journalist, again job played torrent to me very now and then. It was a snake and ladder story when it came to jobs as a journalist. However i had the satisfaction of working with print, web, and electronic media and all with distinctions. I ended this vocation being a Jefferson fellow that took me to several countries of the world.

The fascinating world of media generated academic interest in me and my media distinction made several colleges invite me to lecture on journalism and mass communication.  This prompted me to take full time vocation as a media trainer. Now I am close to spending 10 years in this profession and I am enjoying this twist of my life as a part of a beautiful journey.

 Now life looks to be settling on a flat surface here at Chennai. Currently, I am handling two jobs, one as head the department of visual communication at Guru Nanak College, the other with a digital company as its content head.

The academic in me continues to live alongside with both the jobs. I am invited to national and international conferences by various institutions across the country due to my past work. As a panelist I share the platform with some high profile academicians and journalists.

Well this not all. Off late life my life is undergoing yet another twist in its chequered tale. My long holiday at the college is taking me to my ancestral place in Bihar and I am developing keen interest in farming activity there. However, as I mud my hands in farming, I find myself in a quite a mess being created there. My long absence has made my relatives emboldened to dispossess me from my own property. I am struggling to come to terms with this grim reality and fighting seven court cases to get hold of my own property.

Well, this part of life’s journey has just begun and even though I am reluctant farmer, I have no other go than to fight it out to get what is due to me.  I am seized of the situation there and getting ready to undergo another round of struggle for a rightful cause. I have faced earlier such challenges and I am once again ready to slug it out as I move ahead in my life.

There is nothing pitiable about my journey of life. I have enjoyed every bit of it and there are no regrets as I look back. I hope my story inspires those who may be undergoing similar hardship in their lives. My only word of wisdom to them is, never give it up it’s only those who fight can win the battles of life.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at
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