‘Rome Pope ka, Madhepura Gope ka (Rome belongs to the Pope, Madhepura to the Gopes)’ is how Madhepura constituency in the Kosi belt of north-eastern Bihar is described in common parlance. It is called so mainly because of the preponderance of the Yadavs, known as Gopes, in the constituency.
Though the overall social composition of the constituency has changed after delimitation in 2008, the Yadavs are still the single largest caste in Madhepura. Considering the dominance of Yadavs, the RJD has nominated muscleman Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav to take on sitting MP and JD(U) president Sharad Yadav.
A five-term Lok Sabha MP from Madhepura, Sharad, 66, now has a formidable opponent in Pappu, 53, also a former MP from Madhepura. In the 2004 by-poll after Lalu Prasad relinquished the Madhepura seat for Chapra (now Saran), Pappu had defeated Sharad Yadav.
Pappu’s acquittal in CPM MLA Ajit Sarkar’s murder case and his subsequent release has left Sharad with a stiff challenge in his backyard. After remaining in the wilderness for his conviction in the Ajit Sarkar murder case, Pappu revived his political career after being exonerated in the case by the Patna High Court late last year.
While welcoming Pappu into the RJD fold, Lalu Prasad had given him a clean chit, saying that Pappu was falsely implicated in the murder case. Though a protégé of Prasad, Pappu had hopped from the RJD to the LJP and then to the SP during his controversial two-decade-long political career during which he was elected thrice to the Lok Sabha from Madhepura and Purnia parliamentary seats.
The BJP has taken a calculated risk by nominating a non-Yadav candidate and rebel JD(U) leader Vijay Singh Kushwaha to garner the non-Yadav votes in the constituency with more than 15 lakh voters. After the JD(U) split from the NDA last year, Sharad Yadav is unlikely to have the cushion of the upper caste votes, which ensured his win in 2009 when upper caste voters, including Rajputs and Brahmins along with the extremely backward castes (EBCs) were instrumental in his victory.
Sharad is banking on the ‘development plank’ of the Nitish Kumar government, besides projecting Pappu’s ‘strongman’ image. Pappu is harping on ‘secularism’, claiming that only the UPA could give a ‘peaceful and secular government’ in the country. The RJD is also raking up the local-versus-outsider issue to outwit Sharad, who originally belongs to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh.