Nine years ago, no rival leader could paste a poster and no campaign vehicle could take to the streets in defiance of the diktat of Mohammad Shahabuddin. Such was the dread of the former Siwan parliamentarian, who was known as MP Saheb in his heydays — and never called by his name.
Former RJD MLA Mohammad Shahabuddin.
But, this year, campaign vehicles have flitted through the town unhindered. Shahabuddin, who began his political journey as an independent MLA, is behind the bars in connection with a string of cases.
Things have changed after Shahabuddin's wife Hena Shahab, who fought as an RJD nominee in 2009, lost to independent candidate Om Prakash Yadav by a margin of 63,000 votes.
However, Siwan still carries Shahabuddin's imprint. The ex-MP has been shifted from Siwan Prison to Gaya Central Prison in order to ensure that he does not control the elections for Shahab, who is in the fray for the second straight time.
The Siwan strongman still evokes fear. But not as much as he did in his prime when many viewed him as Bihar's Robin Hood, while some could only associate terror with his name.
His reputation has won him four consecutive Lok Sabha elections (1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004) on Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) ticket.
Shashi Prakash, a young businessman of Daraunda — which is 18km from Siwan town, recalls the fear psychosis triggered by Shahabuddin.
"Hoisting a flag of any other party was a strict no-no. Those defying the diktat faced repercussions. Lekin ab shanti hai (but peace prevails now)," he says.
Prakash is now emboldened by the change in the constituency where countermanding of polls and election day slaughters were once routine activities.
Siwan, which goes to polls in the last round next Monday, is all set to see a tough election contest once again featuring Shahab (RJD) and sitting MP Yadav (BJP).
The ruling JD(U) has fielded former BJP leader Manoj Singh, a member of the Rajput community, paving the way for a tough triangular contest.
Mohammad Shahabuddin's wife Hena Shahab (L), who is the current RJD nominee from Siwan.
Nowadays, loud sloganeering of 'zindabad' coming from camp offices of the RJD and the JD(U) can be heard, even as vans covered with red and carrying poll material of CPI (ML) Liberation whizz through.
Not far away, BJP's lotus flags flutter atop houses, signalling the strong presence of the saffron outfit and support for party nominee Vyasdeo Prasad, who represents the Siwan assembly segment.
In 2005 October assembly polls when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power after defeating the RJD, Siwan voted for a change. The RJD lost six of the eight assembly seats in the district, once called the badlands of Bihar.
People still believe it was a landmark year for Siwan as it heralded a "second azadi".
"Humlog ko dar se mukti mili thi us saal. Woh hamare liye azadi thi doosri baar (That was the year we were freed from fear. It was like a second independence day)," said a local villager at Mahpur, not far off from Siwan.
In the 2010 assembly polls, the NDA got a big thumbs up when the two parties won all eight seats. But, last year, the ruling JD(U) severed its ties with the BJP-led alliance, making a clash between the friend-turned-foes imminent.
This time, people in tea stalls and even in remote villages like Nawalpur or Satyavar – falling in Ziradei and Barharia area — are talking about the "wave" for BJP's prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi in upper caste and OBC enclaves.
Awadesh Yadav, a farmer from Mahpur, says there is a "Modi lehar".
"Modi ko vote milega, kuch lantern mei bhi jayega (Modi will get votes. Some will go for RJD's poll symbol lantern)," he said, indicating a split in Yadav votes and a dent in Lalu Prasad's support base.
In Rajput pockets like Nawalpur and Chotka Manjhi in Ziradei, one Rameshwar Singh said there was a likelihood of a split of their own caste men between the JD(U) and the BJP, as many are expected to vote for the saffron party.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad, however, would hope to bank on the support from Muslims.
Mohammed Shamsher Ali, a schoolteacher, says there will be a close contest between the RJD and the BJP, but expressed his discontent over Modi's stand against "Bangladesh infiltrators".
"Narendra Modi is trying to infuse a sense of hatred among communities. In Siwan, both communities have lived in harmony for a long time… but such things vitiate the atmosphere," he says, claiming Yadavs and Muslims would stand by the RJD.
With just few days left for polling, Siwan is headed for a tough battle, where the legacy of CPI(ML) is being carried by its veteran cadre Amar Nath Yadav, the only man who stood up to Shahabuddin. Yadav is the CPI(ML) candidate in Siwan.
In the town, the statue of slain young leader and ex-JN(U) student union president, Chandrashekhar — he was killed on March 31, 1997 — stands tall in reminiscent of the bloodbaths in the badlands of in the 1990s.