A victory after 32 years of trying
Ram Sunder Das’s Phone and electricity bills were well in excess of his total assets. Ashok Mishra reports.
When the JD(U) leadership fielded former chief minister Ram Sunder Das from Hajipur Lok Sabha constituency, no one expected that he would defeat Union Fertiliser Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, a feat he could not do in five previous attempts spread over 32 years. But at the ripe of 88, Das trumped Paswan by over 37, 000 votes.
Das took his first shot at Hajipur and Paswan in 1977. He ended with 3,449 votes as an independent candidate and stood fourth. Less than two years later, he was chief minister of Bihar (Jan 1979-Feb 1980), as head of the Janata Party government in the state. Then, Indira Gandhi returned to power at the Centre and Jagannath Mishra, in Bihar.
The veteran socialist leader was second time lucky when he secured Hajipur as Janata Dal candidate in 1991, defeating Dasai Chaudhary (JP). But the victory was achieved in the absence of Paswan, who had shifted to Rosera for that one election. The four Lok Sabha elections since then have only brought frustration for Das.
He lost to Paswan in 1996 as Samata Party candidate and in 1998 as a candidate of the Samajwadi Janata Party-Rashtriya (SJP-R). In the polarised election of 1999, Das was relegated to the third position as SJP-R nominee with just 5,027 votes, well behind Paswan and RJD’s Ramai Ram. In 2004, he was down to the fourth position, as SJP-R candidate, with 14,801 votes.
Believed to be oldest candidate in the current Lok Sabha election, Das first entered the electoral arena in 1957 as a Praja Socialist Party (PSP) nominee in Hajipur. In 1984, he was in the fray from Palamu (now in Jharkhand) and secured 69,796 votes. It is a measure of his never-say-die attitude that he joined the JD(U) in December last year to challenge Paswan once again.
It was the same perseverance that enabled Das to get the better of the then chief minister Karpoori Thakur in the Bihar Janata Party Legislature Party (JPLP) leadership struggle in 1979, to take over the reins of Bihar. A decade later, in March 1990, Lalu Prasad Yadav — little more than a Karpoori acolyte at the time, overcame Das to conquer the chief ministership of Bihar.
Das’ solid socialistic persuasion is confirmed by his relatively modest financial worth, despite being in politics for over 50 years. As per his 2004 election affidavit, his telephone and electricity bill liabilities (Rs 12.39 lakh) at the time were well in excess of his total assets, worth Rs 5,09,587. Even today, disputed phone bills totalling Rs 11.17 lakh continue to haunt him.