Nitish Kumar Faces Growing Discontent Among Tharu Tribes in Bihar Ahead of Elections

Tharuhat encompasses approximately 300 villages within the 900 square kilometer Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve in Bihar’s West Champaran district.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has often begun his state-wide tours from Valmikinagar that is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. Known as Tharuhat, this region is home to the Tharu tribes, who are the inhabitants of the terai areas along the Indo-Nepal border. Despite launching numerous development projects since becoming Chief Minister in 2005, Kumar’s frequent political shifts and prohibition policies have irked voters across all age groups in the run-up to the elections.

Tharuhat encompasses approximately 300 villages within the 900 square kilometer Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve in Bihar’s West Champaran district. The Tharu population, around 300,000 strong, primarily resides in forests, though some engage in agriculture. Officially recognized as a Scheduled Tribe in May 2003, the Tharus trace their name to Theravada Buddhism and consider themselves descendants of the Buddha.

However, disenchantment is palpable among the Tharu community. “We will not vote for Nitish Kumar. He is a palturam (turncoat) and imposed darubandi (prohibition) on us,” remarked Ghanshyam Rai, a vendor at the bi-weekly Friday market in Valmikinagar. Another vendor, Gautam Mahto, added, “Daru (alcohol) and Tharu cannot be separated.” He noted that while some Tharus might support the RJD candidate, Kumar’s candidate would not receive their votes.

In Kanbhushari village, part of the Bagaha-2 block, many young Tharus have migrated to Gujarat, Punjab, Mumbai, and Gurugram for work. Satyanarayan Mahto, 60, and Ramchandra Mahto, 62, both expressed their intent to vote for the BJP rather than Kumar’s candidate. When reminded that Kumar is allied with the BJP and their votes would ultimately support him, Satyanarayan responded, “Kya karen? Nitish majboori hai, lekin Modi jaruri hai (What to do? Nitish is a compulsion, but Modi is a necessity).”

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Tharu women, however, were more reserved about their electoral choices. “We will decide on polling day. We’ve not made a decision yet,” said Sharda Devi, 56. Pramila Devi, 28, added cryptically, “You should understand it better.”

In the village of Harnatand’s Champapur Bazaar, first-time Tharu voters expressed frustration with Nitish Kumar’s political flip-flops, labeling him ‘Kursi’ Kumar instead of the once-respected ‘Sushasan Babu’ of Bihar. “We’ll vote for anyone but not Nitish Kumar’s candidate,” declared Ghanshyam Rai. “Who knows if he will switch sides again after winning? We’ll be embarrassed again,” he said.

As the elections approach, it is clear that Nitish Kumar faces significant discontent among the Tharu tribes in Bihar, a region that once served as a loyal starting point for his political campaigns. The Chief Minister’s ability to navigate this growing opposition will be crucial in determining his electoral fortunes.