Much water has flown down the river since Dalit leader and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ramvilas Paswan won Patna seat in 1999 Lok Sabha elections capitalising on anti-RJD sentiments.
Paswan had defeated the Revenue and Land Reforms Minister Ramai Ram of the RJD and was rewarded with a berth in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee ministry.
Paswan, then a candidate of JD(U), has joined hands with his one time enemy RJD supremo Laloo Prasad Yadav this time and challenging him is former Bihar horticulture, weights and measures minister Chedi Paswan of JD(U) who quit the Rabri Devi ministry on being denied party ticket from Sasaram (SC) seat.
The last leg of the electrifying campaigning has cleared the haze and the battle of ballots has boiled down to one and one contest between the two.
The Bahujan Samaj Party is also trying to make its presence felt and has fielded Chandreshwar Das. There are five other candidates in the fray.
A drive through the various assembly segments constituting the Lok Sabha seat and talks with a cross section of the electorate suggest the constituency was heading for a neck an neck fight between Ramvilas Paswan and Chedi Paswan with the latter giving the high profile Dalit leader a run for his money.
The wheel has come full circle now and the anti-Laloo votes which had earlier helped Ramvilas Paswan, appear in favour of the JD(U) candidate.
Paswan, who had made it to the Guinness Book winning the 1977 election from Hajipur by a record margin of over 4.24 lakh votes, represented this constituency also in 1980, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 1999. Paswan, who lost only once from here in 1984 when a pro-Congress wave swept the country in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination, had won the last poll from here in 1999 by a margin of over 1.5 lakh votes.
However, unlike earlier elections when the two dominant upper castes-- Rajputs and Bhumihars who together constitute nearly 24 per cent of over 10 lakh electorate, appear not to be plumping for him and mince no words in criticising him for aligning with Yadav. They said if he (Ramvilas) was feeling uncomfortable in NDA he should have contested the election on his own rather than align with the RJD.
"We had faced bullets of Yadavas for supporting Ramvilas Paswan in the past but this time we will fire bullets to get him defeated," says an agitated Manoj Kumar Singh, a Rajput youth of Kadilpur village in Jandaha assembly segment. Another youth, Ajit Kumar of Dighi village under Hajipur assembly constituency vents his ire against Paswan saying "I will prefer to throw the voting machine into the dustbin but will never vote for a 'gaddar' (traitor)".
People also complain about virtually no development taking place in the constituency from Paswan's Local Area Development Fund and charge him with doing nothing for reopening of 200 small scale industrial units including Bihar State Food and Vegetable Development Corporation's (BSFDC) plant lying closed since 1990.
The employees of BSFDC plant have been forced to ply rickshaws and do menial jobs to earn a living, says Mohan Prasad Singh, secretary of BSFDC Employees Union.
Singh, who now runs a small general store, says "we used to export litchi squash, guava juice and tomato paste to Russia, Bhutan, Nepal and United Arab Emirates. See what has happened to us".
The election symbol of Ramvilas Paswan, a bunglow, is also working against him because the supporters of Laloo Prasad hardly recognise any symbol other than the lantern. Paswan has distributed thousands of leaflets in the constituency with photographs of electronic voting machine with a request to press the blue button before his election symbol embossed at number five on the voting machine.
The recent elevation of state JD(U) Legislature Party leader Upendra Prasad Kushwaha to the rank of the Leader of the Opposition in Bihar assembly too has brought the Kurmis and Koeris (Kushwaha is a Koeri and Laloo's arch rival Nitish Kumar is a Kurmi) on a common platform and are likely to vote for Chedi Paswan, said Brishan Patel, a former Bihar minister who recently quit the RJD and joined the JD (U).
However, the supporters of Ramvilas Paswan claim that he will win hands down not only because of his stature as a leader of national repute but also as he has done a lot for the development of Hajipur. The Railway zonal office, the conversion of Hajipur-Bachwara rail line from meter gauge to broad gauge and a railway hospital are gifts from Paswan and how can the voter forget this, says Sanjay Singh, a Paswan aide.
Besides, Laloo factor too will play a major role as Yadavas, who are the single largest caste in the constituency having around 3.5 lakh votes would side with Ramvilas Paswan, claims Jugal Kishore Rai at Terasia village under Raghopur Assembly constituency represented by Chief Minister Rabri Devi.
Of six assembly segments in Hajipur Parliamentary seat two--Hajipur and Jandaha--have NDA MLAs, while Mahua, Raghopur and Patepur were won by RJD in the 2000 assembly elections and Mahnar by the LJP. However, RJD MLA from Mahua Dasai Chaudhary recently quit the party and is fighting as JD(U) candidate against Ramvilas Paswan's brother Ramchandra Paswan in Rosera.