No cakewalk for Tejashwi Yadav as Raghopur lines up for triangular contest
For Tejashwi Yadav, the stakes are high in the Raghopur seat as it’s a matter of prestige for the star campaigner of the RJD to win this seat as the face of the grand alliance.
As the second phase of polls draws near, all eyes are on one constituency - Raghopur, in Vaishali district, where the poll battle in the Yadav-dominated seat is hogging limelight owing to RJD’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Prasad Yadav seeking re-election for a second term in a triangular fight with BJP and LJP candidates.
For the 31-year-old, the stakes are high in the Raghopur seat as it’s a matter of prestige for the star campaigner of the RJD to win this seat as the face of the grand alliance, which is looking to replace the present dispensation of Nitish Kumar-led NDA government.
Locals say it’s not a cakewalk for the Yadav scion as the BJP nominee Satish Kumar, who had lost to Tejashwi in 2015 election after winning the seat in 2010 assembly polls, is canvassing against the leader of the opposition for neglecting his constituency and doing little on the development front, a key agenda of the BJP in the polls.
“It’s a tight fight and the results could throw a surprise. Much would depend on how Yadavs vote this time as they hold the key to candidates’ fate here. Rajput votes are also crucial,” said Arjun Rai, a resident of Bidupur falling in the Raghopur constituency.
Located across Ganga in Vaishali district, Raghopur has been traditionally the pocket borough of the RJD since the mid-1990s when Lalu Prasad represented the seat in 1995, 2000 while former chief minister Rabri Devi represented it from 2005-2010. In 2010, Rabri lost the seat to BJP’s Satish Kumar, also a Yadav by caste, by a margin of 13,000 votes, bringing Kumar in limelight as a giant killer. In the 2015 election, Kumar lost to Tejashwi by a margin of 19,000 votes.
Though the constituency has a history of polarisation on caste lines, development issues like roads, power, education and healthcare are in the minds of voters. This is the reason the ongoing construction of the mega six-lane bridge from Kachi Dargah in Patna and Bipudur over Ganga at a cost of around Rs 5,000 crore commissioned in January 2016 by chief minister Nitish Kumar is being tom–tomed by both Tejashwi and his arch rival Kumar as a key initiative to give better connectivity to the constituency from Patna.
“During my stint as deputy CM from 2015 November to 2017 July, several road projects worth Rs 900 crore was given and the Kachi Dargah bridge was commissioned with connectivity with diara areas ( riverine belts of Ganga),” Tejashwi said at a rally in Bidupur in Raghopur constituency today.
He also underlined the point as he would be indebted to the people of the constituency for being re-elected, reminding them that Raghopur is once again going to elect not a MLA but a CM as he is the face of grand alliance fighting to bring people’s government this time.
“Raghopur ki janata vidhyak nahin, CM chunti hai like my father Lalu Prasad and mother Rabri Devi. This time, you will elect a CM,” he said, a ploy to play on sentiments of the Yadav community knowing well how there could be a division in votes of his castemen towards the BJP. The RJD is also worried about its organisational base being weak in the constituency this time due to recent shifting of former MLA Uday Narayan Rai - a close confidant of jailed RJD chief Lalu Prasad - to the ruling JD(U). Rai is considered a prominent Yadav face in the constituency.
Incidentally, poll managers of BJP candidate Kumar are keeping their spirits high despite Tejashwi’s bid to woo Yadav electors by his new stature as RJD’s CM candidate. “Has Tejashwi worked for the constituency in the last five years. The Kanchi Dargah bridge was conceptualised and initiated by the chief Minister during Kumar’s stint as a MLA and it is now on the verge of completion. There was big work in the constituency in the power and education front and health care during NDA’s rule,” said Ganesh Rai, a poll manager and BJP leader of Raghopur, close to BJP candidate.
Kumar could not be reached for comments as he was busy campaigning.
The BJP has put some of the party’s heavyweights in the campaign for Kumar with defense minister Rajnath Singh addressing a rally at Raghopur seat on Friday while union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai addressed a rally today. In his speech, Rajnath Singh reportedly harped on the developments undertaken in the NDA rule in Bihar, especially in Raghopur, highlighting how power situation and roads had improved in last 15 years and exhorted voters that there was no need to go back to “lantern ( also RJD poll symbol)” age. Even Nityanand Rai has been brought in to woo Yadav voters on the BJP side.
However, the poll permutation and combination of both the RJD and BJP has suffered a setback due to the Lok Janshakti Party’s bid to field Rakesh Roshan, a Rajput by caste,who is posing a challenge of dividing the crucial Rajput votes. LJP chief Chiraj Paswan has campaigned for his party nominee in the constituency. Observers feel, the LJP candidate could act as a vote splitter and affect the BJP more than the RJD, in case there is heavy division of votes in Rajput community.
Tejashwi, in a recent interview, denied the LJP candidate would help him.
Significantly, sources said the BJP poll managers are aware of the challenges and banking heavily on the extremely backward castes (EBCs) knowing well it could compensate any losses in case of division in the Rajput votes and also on division of Yadav votes plus scheduled castes.
In the constituency, Yadavs have a vote base of around 1.50 lakh while Rajputs constitute around 50,000 whereas other castes like EBCs and scheduled castes have around 1 lakh votes.
Muslims voters are in a few thousand. “Voting in the constituency is always on caste lines. This time, there is a triangular fight but the LJP is not a big formidable force in the constituency and will only cut votes of both the RJD and BJP. That could bring down the winning margin for the successful candidate,” said Randhir Kumar, a retired employee and avid political observer.