Nitish camping, Lalu with Sharad, Pappu on his own, all eyes on Yadavs’ bastion
Sitting in a makeshift doctor’s clinic at Gandaul on the western embankment of Kosi, Meena Devi, who is waiting for the doctor for getting an antibiotic injection after an operation, seems confused about her electoral choices.
She is a beneficiary of several government schemes, including Ujwala for a gas connection, but also gets help “at the time of need” from the local MP.
“Road ban gaya. Kosi per pul bhi ho gaya. Bijli rahti hai. Par paani nahi aaya (Road has been built, Kosi has a new bridge, power connection is there but we are yet to get water supply),” she says. She claims that no less than 200 families in her village of 350 homes cook food on a gas cylinder now and are even getting it refilled.
This doesn’t mean they have left traditional mode of cooking on wood. “Cylinder costs no less than Rs 800,” she says reluctantly.
Woman like Devi and others no more want to be guided by males when it comes to voting. “Kam karega vote milega. Jaat (caste) hota hai lekin kamo dekhana parta hai (Leader who works will get vote. Caste does matter, but one has to show his achievements),” says her daughter Munni, a middle school drop-out.
Gandaul western embankment, thanks to opening of bridge over Kosi near Balua Chowk, today buzzes with activity with scores of fruit vendors, sweet vendors lined up on either side of road. “The area was earlier called Kaala Paani because of inaccessibility. A distance from here to Saharsa of 32 kilometers was dawn-to-dusk affair. But no more. The bridge has not only bridged the distance but also brought qualitative change in the life of people, culturally and economically. It has opened up Mithalanchal,” said Rajendra Jha, secretary, Kosi Sewa Sadan.
No wonder, for all the three candidates, Sharad Yadav of RJD, sitting MP Pappu Yadav who is fighting this time as an Independent, and JD-U’s Dinesh Chandra Yadav, Madhepura seems keen to break out of the caste mould and looking at development.
The old adage of “Rome Pope kaa, Madhepura Gope kaa, referring to the dominance of Yadavs in the region, however, holds true even today as parties have not ventured to go beyond this. All three prominent candidates are Yadavs.
But, for the first time, it won’t be left to over 3.75 lakh Yadav voters who will decide the fate of the seat, which also hinges on Brahmins (1.70 lakh), Rajput (1.10) lakh), Mahadalits (1.8 lakh), Dalits (1.10 lakh), Koeri (60,000), Kurmi (65,000) and Dhanuk (60,000).
The fight in Madhepura is also being seen as a prestige battle between Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on one hand, and RJD president Lalu Prasad and Sharad Yadav, on the other.
In fact, Kumar had made Madhepura his base camp since April 9. After addressing on an average four meetings in constituencies going to polls on April 18 and 23, he halts at Madhepura and personally monitors the developments.
JD (U) sources said that even in 2014, he had camped here for close to 13 days.
Battle for survival for Sharad
For former JD (U) president Sharad Yadav, now with the RJD, it’s a battle for survival. Yadav, born in Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh, has been contesting from Madhepura Lok Sabha constituency since 1991 and won four times.
People of region see Yadav as a representative of Lalu Prasad and fight of Madhepura as one between Lalu and Nitish. Although Madhepura has been a battleground for Sharad and Lalu in the last two decades, the common enemy in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar not only brought these two leaders together, but also nudged Yadav to contest on RJD’s ticket.
“It will be a survival battle for Yadav. A defeat in the elections may send him into political oblivion,” says Pawan Kumar, a departmental shop owner at Madhepura. “He faces the similar scenario faced by George Fernandes in 2009.”
In December 2017, Nitish Kumar invoked anti-defection law to have Sharad Yadav disqualified from the Rajya Sabha. And today, Yadav’s own party, the Loktantrik Janata Dal, is part of the RJD. Yadav’s friendship with Lalu Prasad has been revived after a long time, and he is waiting for his charisma to work for him.
Stakes are also high for sitting MP Pappu Yadav. “Even though his past weighs heavily against him, his ability to stand by people in their hour of crisis, be it in Madhepura, Supaul or in Delhi, makes him a popular figure,” says Suman Kumar Mishra of Mahishi. “When people go to Delhi for medical treatment, he ensures they get early appointment, place to stay and food,” says Pramod Kumar Yadav, claiming the youth are still behind him. But there are many who don’t agree. “How long youths be misguided? Youths are also realising that rowdyism will not fetch them bread and butter for long,” said a professor of B N Mandal University, Madhepura.
Madhepura, of late, has got a railway locomotive factory, a medical college is nearing completion and an ITI is in the works. Several new shops, including some branded one has cropped up signalling change.
Madhepura Lok Sabha seat
Total Number of Assembly segments: 6
Name of Assembly segments: Alamnagar, Bihariganj, Madhepura (Madhepura district), Sonbarsa, Saharsa and Mahishi (Saharsa district)
Total voters: 1884216
Service voters: 1871
Total Number of booths: 1940
Voter turnout in 2014: 60.02%
2014 Lok Sabha Results
Winner: Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav -- RJD
Runners up: Sharad Yadav – JD (U)
Sharad Yadav in Madhepura
1991 – Janata Dal – Won
1996 – Janata Dal – Won
1998— Janata Dal (United) –Lost to Lalu Prasad
1999 -- Janata Dal (United) – Won (defeated Lalu Prasad)
2004 -- Janata Dal (United) – Lost to Lalu Prasad
2009 -- Janata Dal (United) – Won
2014 -- Janata Dal (United) – Lost to Pappu Yadav