RJD fields new face to wrest back its old seat of Darbhanga from BJP - Hindustan Times
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RJD fields new face to wrest back its old seat of Darbhanga from BJP

By, Darbhanga
May 08, 2024 07:22 PM IST

Delay in establishing AIIMS at Darbhanga due to politics. BJP blames RJD for past delays. Elections lack enthusiasm, polarisation key. BJP vs RJD contest.

“So near, yet so far. We hope it comes up fast,” said Md Sadiq, 52, lamenting the delay in the establishment of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at Darbhanga due to “sheer politics”.

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AIIMS at Darbhanga, for which the Centre gave permission on September 19, 2020, and the Bihar government first allotted land on November 3, 2021, and later shifted to a new location, is an issue this time, which the RJD is trying to fan and which has also led to some protests against the sitting BJP MP Gopaljee Thakur, who is seeking a second term and faces RJD’s six-time MLA Lalit Yadav.

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Darbhanga Lok Sabha seat goes to vote on May 13 in the fourth of the seven-phase parliamentary elections being held in the country.

BJP supporters blame RJD for the delay due to attempts to shift the AIIMS project to other sites when it was in power as part of the Grand Alliance government and say that the matter had been finally resolved to clear the decks for the project that could give a big boost to the district’s growth.

“However, AIIMS or any other issue will not be a deciding factor while voting in Darbhanga, polarisation certainly will. This is an election without any enthusiasm among voters, as the atmosphere is missing. Yet, people will vote on dotted lines, as in the past,” said Ujjwal Kumar, a social activist.

Shrutikar Jha, executive officer of the Maharaja Kameshwar Singh Kalyani Singh Foundation, too expressed surprise over the strange indifference to election. “Earlier, there used to be election discourse even in social functions. That has vanished. Heat may be one factor, but people’s response this time appears unusually low key. It remains to be seen what is in their mind and how they vote in a constituency that has seen a direct contest between BJP and RJD for more than two decades,” he says.

There has been a shift in the RJD stand this time. Earlier, it stuck with a Muslim candidate to reap the benefit of Darbhanga’s demographic profile, which has a sizeable population of Muslims and Yadavs. Md Ali Ashraf Fatmi won from here four times, until BJP wrested the seat from him in 2009 and has since held it.

Last time, in 2019, Darbhanga witnessed a complete change of faces from all mainstream parties. BJP dropped its two-time MP Kirti Azad in favour of Gopaljee Thakur. RJD replaced Fatmi with seven-term MLA Abdul Bari Siddiqui. The result was that Azad joined the Congress and Fatmi the JD-U. Fatmi, however, returned to RJD fold just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections after the JD-U joined the NDA to mar his prospect for a ticket and has been fielded from neighbouring Madhubani, while Lalit Yadav has been give ticket from Darbhanga.

In 2019, Thakur won the seat by over 2.67 lakh votes in the Modi wave. This time too, he is relying on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma to repeat his performance. Modi addressed a rally in Darbhanga on May 4 and touched upon the issues that could connect with the masses — promotion of Madhubani painting and Makhana, development of Darbhanga airport, IT park, marketing of mango and lychee and “steps to clear the hindrances in the construction of AIIMS”.

He also raised the issue of the 2002 Godhra train arson, for the first time during the ongoing parliamentary polls in the country, and accused RJD chief and former railway minister Lalu Prasad of influencing a probe panel’s report on the incident to lay the blame on kar sevaks.

He accused RJD and its ally Congress of talking about religion-based reservations to appease Muslims.

RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who has also been visiting the area frequently and taking on BJP for “doing nothing for Bihar”, retorted by describing Modi as “Peerzada”, who has got tired and aged.

Former vice chancellor of LN Mithila University, SM Jha, said the election arithmetic in Darbhanga remains unaltered, with clearly defined voters of RJD and BJP. Though there are eight candidates in the fray, but the contest is direct between the two blocs.

“Brahmins are said to be the highest in number in Darbhanga, followed closely by Muslims and Yadavs. Then there are other castes. The issue is who is able to take his voters to the polling booths. Last time, BJP had a cakewalk. This time, RJD has fielded a new candidate after failing to have its foothold in the last three elections despite traditionally being a strong force here,” he said.

RJD candidate Lalit Yadav is targeting his rival directly at every public meeting, saying Thakur was the stumbling block for AIIMS and Darbhanga’s development. “There is no Modi wave in Darbhanga. The people have had enough of empty promises and now they want action and for this they will vote for change. BJP does not have real public issues to talk about,” he says.

Darbhanga is well connected by smooth roads and highways and has electricity, but there are a few neglected pockets. Darbhanga town is itself waiting for a makeover for a long time. In Belwara village, a banner “Road Nahin to Vote Nahin” greets one. At other places, people complain of low voltage. “Don’t go by the condition of electricity as you see at present. It is due to election,” said Ajit Sahni at Kusheahwarsthan.

Md Ayub, 59, says the divide is clear. “I used to pull manual rickshaw earlier, but now I drive an electric rickshaw. I get free ration. I am waiting for my Ayushman card. But our entire area supports Lalu Prasad,” he says.

Darbhanga has six assembly segments. In the 2020 assembly elections, BJP won one seat and JD-U two. One seat went to RJD and two to VIP.

However, in 2023, all three VIP MLAs, including two from Darbhanga, joined the BJP. They were earlier with the BJP and had joined the VIP ahead of assembly elections.

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