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Sleepless but sure, Shahnawaz wonders where the contest is
- BJP’s Muslim face hopes intense campaign will help fend off challenge

His face looked pale, his eyes red: the excitement, hard work, fatigue and sleepless nights have taken their toll on Shahnawaz Hussain, the BJP’s star leader who ran one of the most gruelling campaigns to retain the Bhagalpur seat.

For the last several weeks, Shahnawaz has been campaigning from morning until late in the night — from 7.30am till about 1.30 or 2 the next morning — amid reports that the going won’t be easy.

The Telegraph team caught up with Shahnawaz early in the morning on polling day, before the booths had opened their doors.

We arrived at Shila Bhavan, a marriage hall located at Vikramshila Colony in Bhagalpur town that has been the camp for the BJP leader for the 40 days, around 6.30am to catch Shahnawaz. The place was already buzzing with activity: party workers were busy arranging escort vehicles for the candidate to move around the constituency. Around 7.15am, Santosh Ranjan, a close aide of Shahnawaz, took us inside Shila Bhavan and asked us to wait till the sitting MP got ready for the day. A couple of minutes later, the 46-year-old Shahnawaz, clad in white churidar-kurta and a bandi (Khadi-made waistcoat) peeped out of the door of his room and said, “I’ll call you after offering namaz.”

Around 10 minutes later, he called us inside while he was taking his breakfast: a simple fare of roti, ladies’ fingers (bhindi) and curd. He looked tired but relaxed. “I have done the most aggressive campaigning and I am pretty confident about my victory,” he said.

“Both the RJD and JD(U) have tried to play the communal card here by fielding candidates from particular communities. However, I do not fear any threat from RJD candidate Bulo Mandal as he hardly has any support from the voters here. JD(U) on the other hand, has fielded Abu Kaiser, which shows that Nitish (Kumar, the chief minister) was already scared of me. It is due to this desperate move of Nitish that Muslims here do not trust him anymore and I have got all the more support from them,” said Shahnawaz.

So what does the two-time MP from Bhagalpur, which has around 18.2 per cent Muslim voters, have to say about reports that the minorities were keeping a distance from the BJP because of Narendra Modi? Shahnawaz brushed aside the suggestion. “The parties playing communal politics here talk about the Gujarat riots but we have targeted them on Bhagalpur riots here,” he said in between gulps of his breakfast. “Several areas like Logai and Chanderi were badly affected in the 1989 riots but I am confident that I would win from those areas as well.” He then turned poet: “Modi-Shahnawaz ki jodi janha, jeet pakki hai wanha (Victory is sure where Modi and Shahnawaz are together)!”

Breakfast over, it’s time to get going. A Toyota Fortuner with a Haryana registration number is waiting to carry Shahnawaz around — the SUV has been his constant companion for the campaign season. Several jawans of the Central Reserve Police Force get inside two escort vehicles. A police escort team had also arrived a couple of minutes ago. The cavalcade leaves Shila Bhavan around 7.45am.

The first stop is the nearby Sanyukt Krishi Bhavan Parishar (combined agriculture office) polling booth at Tilka Manjhi vicinity. He greets voters as they wait in queue. He is surrounded by representatives of various electronic media houses from Patna who want a bite on the recent remarks of BJP leader Giriraj Singh that those opposing Modi should go to Pakistan. Shahnawaz has a response ready. “Our president Rajnath Singh and other senior leaders have already said that the party has nothing to do with such remarks and it was Giriraj’s personal views. It has not affected us at all as people are coming in support of BJP in full strength,” he says.

Shahnawaz then moves to the polling station at Rajkiya Mukti Madhya Vidyalay at Tilka Manjhi Chowk. From there, he heads for Naugachaiya sub-division, north of the Ganga, by crossing the Vikramshila Setu on the river. There he visits Jwaripur Sarvoday Prathmik Vidyalay at Tetri village that falls in Gopalpur Assembly segment followed by Nav Gachaiya Madhya Vidyalay in Lakshmipur.

There he takes our leave. “Ab aap log mujhe akele visit karne de (Now you allow me to visit the polling stations alone),” he said and left.


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