Arjun Bhavan is not just another haunted house in this centuries-old town.
Once known as the power centre of Pappu Yadav, the centrally located building virtually “ruled” Seemanchal till even a decade ago. One call from this address used to send shivers down the spine of government employees, traders and doctors. “They all came and paid the amount they had been told to or get the diktat they had to follow. Nobody could afford to live in Purnea and ignore Arjun Bhavan,” said hotelier Rampal Prasad, recalling “those days” when raids on Arjun Bhavan was a routine exercise by the district administration.
Today, the occupant of Arjun Bhavan, former MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav has changed his address — at least temporarily. He has shifted to Madhepura to contest the election on the RJD ticket while his wife Ranjita Ranjan is fighting from the adjoining Supaul parliamentary constituency on a Congress one. Arjun Bhavan wears a deserted look with posters of the couple on the wall. “All its occupants have shifted to Madhepura and Supaul. There is just one caretaker who appears to have locked himself up,” said Arjun Kumar, a waiter at a nearby restaurant.
People in this north Bihar town, 320km east of Patna, are still shaky to remember the last decade. “Purnea used to become a ghost town once darkness fell. As a medical representative, I was afraid of visiting places like Rupauli and Banmankhi during the daytime and doctors used to close their clinics at evening and even refuse to take calls,” said Shailesh Gupta, who lives in Purnea. He agreed that Pappu Yadav’s exit from the scene has brought down the electoral heat. “Nowhere will you find armed youths roaming about the town on their motorcycles. Now with just a few days to polls, we can stay outdoors till midnight,” he added.
Although Pappu Yadav’s political activities extended to the entire Seemanchal zone, his headquarters was always Purnea. Incidentally, Arjun Bhavan was named after Pappu Yadav’s mentor Arjun Yadav, a known history-sheeter in the early 1990s wanted for numerous charges of murders, extortion and kidnappings. Some contract killers murdered Arjun. “The politics of Purnea is the politics of crime. A series of murders of criminals and politicians took place over the decades. Butan Singh, the husband of present state minister Lesie Singh, was killed in captivity. Ajit Sarkar, the CPM MLA, was murdered by sharpshooters and so were many others. Arjun Bhavan used to be the centre where all types of violence were planned,” said a college teacher.
As Pappu Yadav left for Madhepura, he ordered his followers to support the RJD-Congress alliance in Purnea. Amarnath Tiwari is contesting the poll in Purnea on the Congress ticket. “His followers have shifted according to their convenience. Some have joined the BJP, some the RJD and some others the JD(U). Pappu has been bitter about his followers betraying him in Purnea. But Pappu Yadav’s influence has been showing definite decline in Purnea from the 2009 poll. He had his mother Shanti Priya contest the poll as an Independent. She got less than 1.7 lakh votes while the BJP nominee, Uday Singh, commonly known as Pappu Singh, won by a huge margin of over 1.6 lakh votes,” said Kishore Kushwaha, a JD(U) supporter.
In the 1990s, the Purnea electoral battle used to be Pappu Yadav vs Pappu Singh. Pappu Singh is the BJP’s sitting MP and also the younger brother of former JD(U) MP N.K. Singh. He hails from a family, which is one of the richest traditional landlords, in the region and has an old Congress link. Before switching over to the BJP, he has fought Pappu Yadav on a Congress ticket. “The atmosphere has cooled down in the last one decade. We have managed to check crime. But the absence of Pappu Yadav is being adequately being compensated by the chief minister. He is seeking a communal divide among the voters by depicting us as a Hindu party, which we are not,” Pappu Singh told The Telegraph, alleging that chief minister Nitish Kumar is now bringing in Muslim clerics for campaigning. “So far as I am concerned, it is a battle between me and Nitish. He has used the district administration to create hurdles for us. The JD(U) candidate, Santosh Kushwaha, hardly matters,” he said.
Pappu Singh has reasons to believe that Nitish is targeting him. Even when the alliance between the BJP and JD(U) was intact, he held a massive rally in Purnea and questioned Nitish’s claim on development.
Political observers in Purnea said Pappu Singh might be actually missing Pappu Yadav this time. “Till Pappu Yadav or even his mother was in the contest in the Purnea Lok Sabha election, there used to an element of fear about the Arjun Bhavan days returning to haunt them again. The non-Muslim and Yadav votes used to rally behind the BJP candidate ensuring the impressive victory of Pappu Singh. However, that element is gone this election. The people no longer have the compulsion to vote for one candidate,” said another college teacher who did not want to be quoted. He said the caste and communal politics is now taking over politics of crime. The triangular polls have made the contest interesting, he added.
Kushwaha, the JD(U) candidate, is a former BJP MLA from Baisi in Purnea constituency. He switched sides just to contest polls. “The fact remains that it is due to Nitish the Arjun Bhavan effect on Purnea is gone. People of Purnea are living peacefully and we want it to be like this way. The people of this constituency have rejected the politics of Pappu Yadav. With that it has also rejected the politics of Pappu Singh who spends most of his time in Delhi,” said Nand Kumar, a close associate of the JD(U) campaign.
l Purnea votes on April 24