Bihar: bad news for Nitish, Lalu's candidate heads for a bypoll win
RJD chief Lalu Prasad raised visions of a comeback when his candidate Prabhunath Singh beat the odds to trounce Nitish Kumar's candidate PK Shahi by more than 31,000 votes in the first three rounds of Maharajganj bypoll counting. Mammen Matthew reports.india Updated: Jun 05, 2013 16:00 IST
Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, raised visions of a comeback, when his candidate, three time MP Prabhunath Singh beat the odds to trounce chief minister Nitish Kumar's handpicked NDA candidate PK Shahi by more than 31,000 votes in the first three rounds of counting for the bypoll to the Maharajganj constituency, 180 kms north west of Patna.
The lead was expected to be extended further, when counting is rounded off around 3 pm.
The Maharajganj bypoll was necessitated by the death of its MP Umashankar Singh of the RJD. Interestingly, late Singh's son Jitendra Swami who was fielded by the Congress lost his deposit, burying the effort at a Congress revival.
Early leads at noon, registered the RJD's relentless march to victory, with Shahi throwing in the towel and accepting defeat at 11.15 am.
"It's my loss and it should be seen as such. It does not take away from the credibility of our leader Nitish Kumar," Shahi said.
The chances that the JD-U was expecting a loss came two days earlier when the party filed objections to polling at over 300 polling booths, though Maharajganj witnessed the lowest ever polling at 47.5%.
Lalu Prasad was quick to blame 'the misrule' of the Nitish Kumar led NDA and “the corruption that has overtaken Bihar in every sphere”.
"This is the beginning of the end of the Nitish led regime,” said Lalu, whose confidence had been boosted by the Parivartan Rally, which saw heavy participation in May.
The defeat at the bypoll comes at a crucial time for the JD-U, when Kumar is seen as a potential prime ministerial candidate in 2014 and often compared with Narendra Modi, whom a section of the BJP wants to pitch as the main contender.
The news that the BJP was leading in three of the constituencies, which had gone to by polls in Gujarat, could have dampened the spirits of the JD-U further.
The victory of the RJD seemed to have been sealed by voter disinterest , especially among the BJP cadres, which have an issue with Kumar not supporting Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's candidature for the prime ministerial post. The upper caste turnout was thus severely hampered, even as the Yadavs and Rajputs closed ranks.
There is no indication of a heavy women or dalit turnout, which have been cultivated by the Nitish regime as a 'special constituency' across castes, another reason for the defeat.
Bad infrastructure, power shortage in comparison to the rest of Bihar provided further fuel to Lalu's fire, who asked the voters if there was any reason why the JD-U was to be voted.
Kumar might have sensed the polls would be tough, that is why he spent three days in the constituency in a bid to beat back the Lalu impact. He did not succeed.
Lalu Prasad avoided public meetings, a clever strategy, but concentrated on home to home visit, irrespective of caste, which won him adherents.
The NDA candidate again was a political novice, never having fought an election and too sophisticated for the constituency where leaders speaking in Chaprasi, a colloquial Bhojpuri, are preferred. Shahi's attempts at conversing in the local dialect also failed.
Shahi also came in for criticism, for being the education minister but the school in his native village in Siwan still being building-less despite the NDA being in power for over eight years. A former advocate general, he was pitched as an MLC and made education minister, a tenure marked by controversies, rather than marked development of the education sector.
The win has given Lalu Prasad's RJD a fresh breath of life, which it hopes will revive the party.
The win also pitches the RJD as a worthier party for a tie-up again with the Congress for the next polls and silences critics of Lalu within the Congress, even as , it is expected that Nitish's loss would be a BJP gain, bringing the two parties closer for the 2014 general polls.