Pappu’s presence upsets party play in Purnea - Hindustan Times

Pappu’s presence upsets party play in Purnea

By, Purnea
Apr 20, 2024 09:32 PM IST

Purnea, currently held by JD(U), goes to vote on April 26 in the second of the seven phases in which parliamentary elections are being held in the country.

The roads across the district of Purnea are smooth, as in most places of Bihar nowadays, a far cry from the 1990s. Gang wars and caste clashes, which earned the area its notoriety then, are also a distant memory.

Pappu Yadav campaigns in Purnea on Saturday. (PTI)
Pappu Yadav campaigns in Purnea on Saturday. (PTI)

The once-sleepy Purnea town, the headquarter of the eponymous district, is today bustling with plush hotels, automobile showrooms and private hospitals. There is peace too, generally.

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“Vikas hua hai. Shanti bhi hai, lekin jaati ki rajniti hogi is baar (There has been development. There is also peace, but caste will be a big factor this time),” says  Kunal Kumar,  a trader at Dhamdhaha, one of the assembly segments in the Purnea Lok Sabha constituency located around 30 km from Purnea town.

Purnea, which has more than 22 lakh voters, goes to vote on April 26 in the second of the seven phases in which parliamentary elections are being held in the country.

Already, the electoral battle here has become one of the most keenly watched, at least in Bihar.

Just a month ago, things looked easy for Santosh Kushwaha of the Janata Dal (United), who won the seat in 2014 and 2019 and is in the fray for a third straight term in the Lok Sabha from Purnea as the NDA nominee. But the stakes for him changed dramatically on March 20, when Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, a former strongman from the region, merged his fledgling Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) with the Congress. Almost immediately, Yadav, a five-time former MP who has won Purnea thrice, made it clear he was going the join the fray from there as the Congress candidate. He also claimed he had the “blessings” of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Days later, his hopes were dashed when Purnea was allotted to Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal as part of the seat sharing pact among the constituents of the RJD-led Opposition alliance in Bihar, also comprising Congress and Left parties.

Despite Yadav’s loud protestations about “betrayal”, there was no public statement from the Gandhis and the RJD decided to field Bima Bharti, five-time MLA from Rupuali assembly constituency in Purnea district, who had quit JD(U) and joined Lalu Yadav’s party only last month. She is wife of Awadhesh Mandal, a jailed strong man in the region.

A day after she filed her nomination, Yadav followed suit and entered the fray as an Independent, making the contest triangular. Though he still claims he has support of the top Congress leadership, Rahul Gandhi sought support for Bharti at his rally in Bhagalpur on Saturday. He was accompanied by RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav and Bima Bharti, among others.

“Being a triangular fight, it could be close. Major candidates are all powerful people,” says a doctor from Purnea town, who wished not to be named. “We have not forgotten the days when doctors were asked to attend to patients on a regulated fee and faced threats. It has all changed, but you can’t say it won’t happen again,” he says.

His reference was clear. Those in Purnea who are old enough recall how a doctor’s fee was “prescribed” by Pappu Yadav when he was the local MP in the 1990s and how he started a similar agitation during his stint as Madhepura MP in 2014, which met with opposition from doctors’ bodies across the state. Yadav’s refrain was that doctors should not “fleece” patients and charge reasonable consultation fee from the poor.

Pappu Yadav, who faces several criminal cases, was also an accused in the case of murder of former CPM MLA Ajit Sarkar. He was later acquitted by the Patna High Court.

“It is people of Purnea who are fighting for me this election. I am committed for Purnea and Seemanchal’s development,” says Yadav, who has won Purnea thrice — in 1991( as Independent),1996 and 1999.

Backward classes, especially Yadavs, have a sizeable presence in assembly segments like Dhamdhaha and Banmakhi while extremely backward classes ( EBCs) hold sway in Rupauli and other constituencies. Rajputs, Brahmins and Kushwahas have sizeable vote banks in Purnea, Dhamdhaha and Banmakhi. Muslims and scheduled castes are spread over the parliamentary constituency.

Bharti, fighting her first Lok Sabha election, hails from the EBC community and has been vocal against the Nitish Kumar government for “harassing her and her husband”. “The state government is against the EBCs. But I am not scared to fight against all mighty ones for the sake of Purnea,” she says.

Amod Mandal, a close aide of Bharti, says EBCs have five lakh votes in the constituency. “This is the first time an EBC candidate is contesting and RJD is on a strong wicket.”

However, Ravindra Kumar Singh, a resident of Banmakhi, says Pappu Yadav has a strong following among youths and different sections of people, including Muslims and Yadavs. “Santosh Kushwaha has a challenge and appears to be banking on NDA’s own vote bank,” he says.

At Mozampatti, a village 50 km from Purnea town and dominated by Yadavs, the buzz is all about Pappu Yadav. “He has stood by us and remains socially active. He is in the race, though as an Independent,” says Narendra Prasad Yadav, a retired school teacher.

Another view is that though Kushwaha is facing some criticism for being  less visible in the constituency, he has a cushion in NDA’s traditional vote bank of upper castes, OBCs and Vaishyas.

Bima Bharti is also relying on her new leader Tejashwi Yadav, who campaigned for her at Banmamkhi on Friday. RJD is promising better jobs to youths, redressal of farm issues and better health care.

Kushwaha is also relying on Nitish Kuma‘s “good governance” model as well as work done during the tenure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Purnea region, where several highway projects have been completed or in construction stage.

“We are committed to development and would prepare a plan at block level for generation of jobs for youths. My priority is to fast-track all developmental projects in Purnea, including operationalisation of the Purnea airport and enhancing railway connectivity,” the sitting MP says.

 Kushwaha dismisses RJD and Pappu Yadav. “The two candidates are fighting for one section of the vote bank. We have votes in all sections,” he says.

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    A journalist for 21 years, Anirban covers RJD, legislature and government beats. Has extensive experience in covering elections and writes regularly on finance, land reforms, registration, excise and socio-economic issues.

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