In Bihar, it is a common perception that ‘development’ does not bring votes; it’s the caste that matters. And outgoing MP from Jehanabad, Dr Arun Kumar, of Janata Dal (U) seeking re-election from the seat, does not think differently.
No wonder, Kumar is wooing his castemen –Bhumihars- who at present are extremely sore at him as they feel he has not done enough for them during his tenure. Though he talks of the development work he has done like electrification of Patna–Gaya railway line, NH road connecting Jehanabad with Biharsharif, etc, he is touring the forward caste-dominated villages of the constituency to assuage the hurt feelings of his own castemen as well as Rajputs. He is also taking the help of NDA stalwarts to woo them.
“Arunji ko char bar vote diye hain, lekin unhone hamare liye kuch nahin kiya. Ek pul tak bana ke nahin diya (We have voted for Kumar four times but he has done nothing for us. He failed to ensure construction of even a bridge)”, said Krishnanand Sharma of Naoma village in western Jehanabad. The village with 3000-odd voters is a forward class-dominated village. The villagers rued that the outgoing MP had not fulfilled their demand for construction of a bridge over the Baldia river, that creates havoc during the rainy season causing much inconvenience to them.
Sensing the mood, Kumar chose to visit the village on Wednesday along with NDA convenor George Fernandes. Though, the duo were given a warm response, the villagers vented their ire against Kumar but it was Fernandes who salvaged the situation. George did what he is best at -- troubleshooting -- by asking the villagers to forgive Kumar for his ‘mistakes’ and give him another chance. The visit of Fernandes has made a difference as Manoj Kumar of the same village said he would definitely vote for Kumar. “Lekin hamne unko kaha ki agar aap hamare hit mein kaam nahin karenge, to theek nahin hoga”. Similarly, on Thursday Kumar visited one of the Rajput-dominated villages, Kumbha, with senior JD(U) leader Prabunath Singh. Even Rajnath Singh had campaigned for Kumar recently.
Evidently, it’s the complex caste equation that will decide the fate of candidates in the fray instead of any local issues like the erratic power supply, dilapidated roads in the rural areas and the extremist violence. The seat is going to witness a triangular contest among JD(U) candidate Kumar, RJD candidate Ganesh Prasad Singh and CPI-ML (Liberation) candidate Mahanand Prasad.
For RJD, the contest is not easy. Its candidate Ganesh Prasad Singh, former MLA from Masaurhi, is trying to cash in on the disenchantment among the forward caste voters against the JD(U) candidate. But Singh’s campaign, especially in Yadav-dominated villages, has been a bit lacklustre as the former is not getting much help from Surendra Yadav, former minister in the Rabri cabinet who had represented the seat in 1998. Yadav, although belonging to Belaganj assembly constituency in Gaya, has a considerable clout in the constituency but this time he has preferred to stay away from the campaign as he is apparently peeved at being denied the ticket from the Jehanabad seat.
ML’s candidate Mahanand Prasad is also in the race and this time the party hopes to get the votes of people belonging to Kushwaha community as the candidate belongs to the same caste. Claimed Digvijay, an ML leader managing the poll campaign: “This time the scenario is different as our candidate would not only get the cadre votes but also of the Kushwaha community. In the last election, the ML candidate had come third while the RJD was in the second place. Nonetheless, with only a few days left for polling, it’s the ‘caste loyalty’ that will decide the fate of candidates in the fray.