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Bhabua bypoll: BJP, Congress pull out all stops to woo Dalits as BSP abstains

The bypoll, scheduled for March 11, was necessitated by the death of BJP MLA Anand Bhushan Pandey.

patna Updated: Mar 06, 2018 18:31 IST
Prasun K Mishra
Prasun K Mishra
Hindustan Times, Patna
The Congress is banking on its star campaigner, former speaker Meira Kumar, to emerge triumphant in Bhabua. (PTI File)

With the BSP abstaining from the Bhabua by-election, the Congress and the BJP are leaving no stone unturned to woo Dalit voters in the constituency.

Dalits form a substantial part of the electorate in Bhabua.

The bypoll, scheduled for March 11, was necessitated by the death of BJP MLA Anand Bhushan Pandey. The saffron party has already roped in two Dalit leaders, Sasaram MP Chedi Paswan and Gopalganj MP Janak Ram, to win over people belonging to the lower castes. Paswan was elected to the Lok Sabha from Sasaram, of which Bhabua is an assembly segment, on three occasions –1989, 1991 and 2014.

The Congress is banking on the popularity of former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar, the party’s star campaigner, to tilt the balance in its favour. Kumar had earlier represented Sasaram in the Lok Sabha in 2004 and 2009. Her father, former deputy prime minister and Dalit icon Jagjiwan Ram, served as an MP from Sasaram between 1952 and 1985.

“The Dalit votes will swing in the Congress’ favour once Meira Kumar launches her campaign,” said a party leader on the condition of anonymity, adding that the former chief minister’s exit from the BJP-led NDA to join hands with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (a Congress ally) has further boosted the state opposition’s prospects.

However, BJP leaders said that any advantage gained by the Congress was neutralised by the desertion of its former state president Ashok Chowdhary ahead of the bypoll. The Dalit leader joined the Janata Dal (United), an NDA constituent, recently.

BJP state chief Nityanand Rai and general secretary Rajendra Singh pointed out that Dalits in the constituency had “solidly backed” his party in the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2015 assembly elections. “The BJP’s clean sweep in two Lok Sabha, four assembly and two legislative council seats in the region bears ample testimony to this,” said Rai.

The state BJP general secretary said Anand Bhushan Pandey was immensely popular among Dalits and the downtrodden. “A sympathy wave is blowing in favour of his wife – party candidate Rinki Rani Pandey – and we are confident that she will win the seat by a huge margin,” he added.

State Congress working president Kaukab Quadri claimed that Dalit voters would support party candidate Shambhu Singh Patel because they held Meira Kumar and Jagjiwan Ram in high regard. He cited a number of other reasons as well.

“Dalits and downtrodden people are being targeted by gau sevaks and members of RSS-affiliated groups across the country. Marginal farmers and labourers (both agricultural and industrial) are facing starvation due to demonetisation and other anti-poor policies of the Union and state governments,” he said.

Quadri said many poor people in Bihar have been rendered jobless due to the “faulty” sand-mining policy of the Nitish Kumar regime. “Lakhs of poor people have also landed in jail due to the Draconian liquor ban. How can they vote for the NDA and BJP? The bypolls to the Bhabua and Jehanabad assembly seats and the Araria Lok Sabha constituency will alter political equations and signal the end of the NDA rule,” he added.

First Published: Mar 06, 2018 18:31 IST