For over two decades Vaishali Lok Sabha constituency of Bihar has sent Lalu Prasad’s trusted aide Raghuvansh Prasad Singh to Parliament. Though immune from ‘Modi wave’, the former Union minister faces a tough fight if not a straightforward defeat in the May 12 election.
All political discussion in this central Bihar constituency invariably boils down to Raghuvansh, the dominating pole of the electoral battle whom rivals are trying to stop from having a free run to the Lok Sabha for the sixth time in a row.
In 2009, the RJD nominee and one of the most important members of Lalu’s think tank had defeated Vijay Kumar Shukla, a bahubali (toughie), by a margin of over 22,000 votes.
In 2014, he has been challenged by the jailed leader’s wife and Lalganj MLA Annu Shukla, who has entered the fray as an independent candidate.
“Singh’s popularity would be put to real test this time, as he faces a determined adversary in Shukla and a division in Rajput votes due to the presence of another strongman, LJP’s Rama Kishore Singh,” says Raj Kumar Singh, 28, of Jagdishpur.
To compound things further, the JD(U) has given ticket to Vijay Sahni, whose fishermen community—the fourth dominant caste after Yadavs, Rajputs and Bhumihars -- has a sizeable presence in assembly segments of Sahebganj and Baruraj and elsewhere. “Sahni cannot be cowed down by strongmen,” says Sunil Kumar, 35, of Daudnagar, who admits he would vote for the JD(U) irrespective of the candidate, as he and his family had benefitted by way of jobs and scholarships for their children.
But Rajendra Rai, 60, of Vaishali proper, is not impressed by Nitish Kumar’s development pitch. “The chief minister has opposed the shifting of Buddha’s relic to Vaishali. Also, meals are being served in schools, but where are the free books?” he asks.
The RJD supporter, however, admits that though feted for implementing MNREGA, Raghuvansh has lately lost some credibility on charges of casteism.
There are other worries for the RJD candidate. His victory also depends largely on how Yadavs vote in Maharajganj, an overwhelmingly Rajput constituency and, how the Rajputs vote in Saran, where Lalu’s wife and former CM Rabri Devi is fighting a pitched battle against BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
There is a reason for this worry, as Rajputs and Yadavs voting for each other’s castes in these three mutually connected constituencies is what brings Raguvansh his Yadav votes. “They are inter-dependant while being mutually exclusive, if things go the other way,” says Ajay Kumar Yadav, 30, of Rampur Jaipal panchayat.
The contours of the ensuing battle remain hazy, but one thing is clear that the former mathematics lecturer will have to get his arithmetic right more than ever before to enter the 16th Lok Sabha.