The outcome of 11 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar on Thursday will provide a definite clue as to who, between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, has captured the much-coveted Muslim imagination in this election.
Is it the Bihar Chief Minister who, after committing hundreds of crores of rupees to minority-specific welfare schemes over the past three years, now has a chance to test the electoral efficacy of his initiatives in the Muslim-majority Kishanganj and four other constituencies, which have a sizeable presence of the minority community?
Or, is it the RJD president and Railway Minister, who extracted rich electoral dividends with his Muslim-Yadav (M-Y) combination for many years and sought to rekindle the old magic by announcing in Kishanganj that he would love to run a roadroller over BJP leader Varun Gandhi?
This round will also provide the Congress a good chance to register its presence in the House, thanks to some borrowed players. Congress nominee Ranjeet Ranjan, LJP MP and wife of RJD MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, is a formidable opponent to leading JD-U contestant Vishwamohan Kumar in Supaul.
Again, Congress nominee Maulana Asrarul Haq in Kishanganj has altered the electoral script of the seat. The JD-U had wrested it from the BJP in a revised seat-sharing agreement with the hope that its nominee Syed Mehmood Ashraf would dethrone sitting MP M. Taslimuddin (RJD). But Haq's entry has upset previous calculations. But, all in all, it looks like a good round for the JD-U.
The JD-U's ally, the BJP, however, may not find it easy to retain the four seats it had won in 2004. Its best prospects are in Purnia, where sitting MP Uday Singh’s closest opponent is Pappu Yadav's mother, Congress-backed Independent Shanti Priya.