After two failed attempts by RJD to win the Pataliputra Lok Sabha seat, with party chief Lalu Prasad himself getting vanquished by JD-U’S Ranjan Yadav in 2009 , the electoral contest in Pataliputra has once again become a prestige battle for both RJD and BJP, as caste factor comes into play more aggressively in the current round of Lok Sabha polls.This time, the contest is between BJP’S sitting MP Ram Kripal Yadav and Lalu Prasad’s eldest daughter Misa Bharti and a number of new factors could play a decisive role. While BJP is banking on its nationalism rhetoric, RJD’S major poll pitches are party supremo Lalu Prasad’s incarceration and threat to the reservation system, to woo its traditional Muslim and Yadav voters.The caste arithmetic has taken a new dimension with RJD led grand alliance (GA) tying up with CPI-MI(liberation) to consolidate anti-BJPvotes. BJP, which contested the seat all by itself in 2014, is banking on support from its allies JD(U) and LJP to increase its tally of upper caste, Dalit and OBC votes. Yadavs constitute for around 5 lakh voters in the constituency, followed by Muslims, upper castes including Bhumihars, OBCS, and Dalits.The GA combination does look formidable, as RJD had lost in2009 and 2014 by a slender margin of 3 to 4 % votes. CPI-ML polled around 5% of the total votes in2014 and transfer of ML’s votes to Misa Bharti would add to GA’S vote share, ensuring a close contest between RJD and BJP, say poll observers.“In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, JD(U) contested alone and garnered around 98,000 votes, giving BJP a passage to victory. There were also cracks in RJD’S Muslim-Yadav equation with many Muslims voting for JD(U). That would not happen this time,” said Mohammed Shamin of Maner Sharief’s Chaar Hazaari Mohalla, one of the biggest Muslim areas of Maner assembly segment in Pataliputra.Voters appear to be aggressive with their caste affiliations. Yadavs sounded more assertive towards RJD, even though many in the constituency felt Ram Kripal Yadav- a Yadav himselfcould swing a sizeable Yadav votes in his favour.“Kantey ki laraai hain iss baar (It will be a close contest this time). But I will vote for BJP and RJD lost from the Pataliputra Lok Sabha seat in both the 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections Main contenders (2019 Lok Sabha polls) Ram Kripal Yadav Misa Bharti Assembly segments BJP.I am a Yadav and it is not necessary that all Yadavs are with RJD,” said Manish Kumar, a graduate who dabbles in property deals in Paliganj, Bikram and Naubatpur- which have become real estate hubs with the expansion of urban clusters under the greater Patna master plan.At Naghar, a village in Bikram assembly segment, Ganesh Yadav , a marginal farmer, is critical of the local MP and BJP. “Pataliputra Ram Kripal has become captive within BJP and has no say. Earlier, he was a free man when he was in RJD and we always looked at him with respect. But now, he only sings the tune of PM Narendra Modi,” he said, asserting he would vote for RJD as Lalu Prasad always talked about the poor and empowered his own caste men.Farm distress, scarcity of water in the Sone-patna canal (the lifeline to irrigate fields in the entire Magadh region, including Patna) and baalu bandi (prohibition on sand mining) are the real grouse of voters, especially among the poor sections. “The Sone canal hardly provides water, a reason why the paddy crop is bad this time. The input cost of raising one quintal of paddy is Rs 1600 and MSP for one quintal of paddy is Rs 1700. What is the gain?”asked Vijay Das, a CPI-ML supporter at Lala-bhatsara village in Paliganj.But section of BJP supporters within all castes could give the saffron party an edge, feel some people. “We are voting for PM Modi and the BJP candidate is also good. Development has been done,” said Ram Iqbal Singh of Raghopur-patit village in Bikram. Akilesh Kumar, a shopkeeper hailing from the Vaisya community at Janipur, explains the division of Yadav voters is crucial for determining the outcome from Pataliputra.As campaigning reached a crescendo with PM Modi addressing a rally in Paliganj on Wednesday and RJD’S Rabri Devi, Tejashwi Yadav and Misa Bharti holding road shows daily, a nail-biting finish could be in store for the Pataliputra Lok Sabha constituency.