Shahabuddin gone, wife Hena breaks free of his party in comeback bid - Hindustan Times
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Shahabuddin gone, wife Hena breaks free of his party in comeback bid

By, Siwan
May 20, 2024 09:34 PM IST

This is also the first time that the RJD has looked beyond Shahabuddin in Siwan, having fielded former assembly Speaker Awadh Bihari Choudhary, a six-term MLA from Siwan assembly constituency.

As long as Mohammed Shahabuddin was into active politics, Siwan never looked beyond him. But things began to shift after the four-time MP’s conviction in a murder case. His wife Hena Shahab lost Lok Sabha polls thrice as a candidate of the RJD, a party her husband was always associated with.

Hena Sahab, widow of Mohammed Shahabuddin, four-time MP from Siwan. (HT)
Hena Sahab, widow of Mohammed Shahabuddin, four-time MP from Siwan. (HT)

This time, however, she is fighting as an Independent. This is the first election after Shahabuddin’s death in 2021.

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This is also the first time that the RJD has looked beyond Shahabuddin in Siwan, having fielded former assembly Speaker Awadh Bihari Choudhary, a six-term MLA from Siwan assembly constituency.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD-U has fielded Vijaylakshmi Devi, a debutant and wife of Ramesh Kushwaha, former MLA from Ziradei in Siwan district. The couple joined JD-U just before the Lok Sabha elections began this year.

Once a stronghold of the Jan Sangh, Siwan’s political dynamics changed after the emergence of Shahabuddin and again underwent a major change after his conviction and later his death.

In 2009 and 2014, Om Prakash Yadav won the Siwan seat, once as an Independent and then on the BJP ticket, but in 2019, JD-U’s Kavita Singh, wife of local strongman Ajay Singh, won the seat. Kavita Singh has been replaced this time with Vijaylakshmi, whose husband Ramesh Kushwaha had won Ziradei assembly seat in 2015 as a JD-U candidate backed by then ally RJD.

In each of the three previous elections, Hena Shahab finished second.

Shahabuddin’s son Osama, who got bail in an alleged extortion case last year, has kept himself away from electoral politics, while Hena has been focusing on winning over the Hindus through her constant outreach.

Asked why she chose to fight as an Independent this time, she says, “I had no option. Shahabuddin was a founder member of the RJD, but the party did not feel the need to do even attend the condolence meeting after his death. No party leader came to pay tribute.”

What is her agenda for Siwan if she wins?

“To ensure rules and regulations are followed in hospital and education. Shahabuddin worked with the motto of making Siwan an education hub so that children here could get the best facilities in the district itself. I will strive for that, as it suits all castes and religions. I am getting support from Hindus cutting across caste lines, says Hena, apparently referring to times when doctors with private practice in Siwan were prohibited from charging consultation fees from patients above the ceiling set by Shahabuddin.

For the JD-U, things aren’t exactly easy. “Ramesh Kushwaha was earlier with the CPI-ML and during one of his elections JNU Students Union leader Chandrashekhar went to campaign for him when he was shot dead on March 31, 1997. Ramesh was the complainant in the case, but later turned hostile. Later, he became JD-U MLA from Ziradei and then state unit chief of the erstwhile Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP),” said a CPI-ML leader.

RJD is banking on the combined strength of the opposition bloc, which includes CPI-ML, which has a sizeable presence in Siwan and finished third each time it fought independently. In 2004, CPI-ML’s Amarnath Yadav had polled 2.55 lakh votes against Shahabuddin, who won the seat. It is in Siwan that RJD’s Muslim-Yadav formula has consistently failed since the end of Shahabuddin era.

“Choudhary has clean image and is a known face, having won Assembly election six times from Siwan. There are no dearth of issues in Siwan — defunct sugar mills and other factories and growing migration to Gulf countries,” says Md Sadiq, a shopkeeper in Siwan.

Siwan is known for its “money order economy” due to a large number of people migrating to Gulf countries for livelihood, leaving their families behind.

Before the emergence of Shahabuddin, it was the stronghold of CPI (ML), which has won assembly elections twice. In the 1990s, people from the party were often accused of putting red flags on the land of upper caste land owners and taking forcible possession.

“Hena will be able to pull minority votes to her kitty because AIMIM is supporting her. In fact, she may even get the votes of forward castes (Rajput), as Shahabuddin had their support because of his anti CPI-ML work. It was not Yadav votes which helped him win elections in Siwan, rather it was votes of upper castes and minorities,” says Ramashish Yadav, a farmer of Duraundha.

Masoom Khan, a former sarpanch of Pratappur, the native village of Shahabuddin, says his village was an example of Hindu-Muslim unity and had never witnessed any untoward incident.

But Anil Pandey, a professor at a local college, says there was a war of attrition going on between Hena Saheb and RJD and that could benefit JD-U.

“Hena is active is the area and she meets people from all religions. There has been no development in Siwan in the last 18 years except an engineering college and an under-construction medical college. Shahbuddin gave Siwan an indoor stadium, outdoor Rajendra stadium, Town Hall, Parbhawati Devi Mahila College, an engineering college, a polytechnic institute, a Unani medicine college and hospital,” says Nafisa Kaiser, a student.

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