The road between Islampur and Kishanganj has a good stretch and a bad stretch. While the good stretch includes the 'Vajpayee roads' built under the Prime Minister's Gram Sadak Yojana, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister, the bad stretch is managed by state government, which has left roads left untouched since 1990.
Added to this is the dangerous stretch the crossing between Kishanganj overbridge and the town proper. Stationed here are Border Security Force and district officials who stop idle taxis or even private vehicles which do not belong to any "influential" person and requisition them for election duty.
In the mofussil heart of Bihar, a good vehicle is hard to find. Unable to cope, district officials stop vehicles at will and recruit them for 'election duty'. While taxi drivers find ingenious methods of avoiding this forced participation like getting "Press" stickers, the Chhat festival shoppers are forced to take long treks to markets.
On Nahaya Khaya Chhat (the first day of the festival), Sujith Mondal heaved himself and his wife and child atop a precariously loaded bus to shop in Forbesganj, in Araria. "I wanted to buy some Chinese electronic goods, but the driver I had engaged refused to enter the third phase area, (areas where the third phase of polling has to take place)," he says. "Fruits and vegetable prices are already high because of Chhat, and now this transport hassle," he says.
Mohammad Shahid, who drives a Sumo Victa, always carries an identity card of a local newspaper and poses as a reporter. "I invested all my money in this vehicle. And these fellows just take the car and return it after a month with no payment," he says angrily.
District officials plead helplessness. "This is not Patna. We need to ensure peaceful polling and this is the only way to do so," says an official in Araria.
Polls, however, are good news for shoppers in the second-phase polling areas. People are boarding trains to reach districts like Purnea just to shop. "Train mein bhid bhad hai, par business theek hai (trains are crowded but its good for business)," says B N Kumar, a shopkeeper in Purnea.