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Base shift for prestige fight

- Nitish makes Madhepura temporary HQ to ensure victory for Sharad Yadav

Patna, April 26: Nitish Kumar has headquartered himself in Madhepura for the past 10 days, leaving nothing to chance to ensure the victory of Sharad Yadav — the sitting MP and the national president of the ruling JD(U).

The embattled chief minister left Patna for Madhepura, 250km northeast of the state capital, on the evening of April 17, the day the state’s capital’s two seats, Patna Sahib and Pataliputra, voted amid speculation that the BJP nominees — Shatrughan Sinha and Ram Kripal Yadav — might have fared far better than the JD(U) candidates there.

Word from the ground in the 20 constituencies where elections are over in Bihar suggests that the JD(U) is on a sticky wicket. The contest, if the reports are correct, is whittling down to one between the BJP and the RJD.

Ever since April 17, Nitish has been fanning out in the hinterlands of Madhepura and other constituencies in other parts of north Bihar. Some of them went to polls on April 24 while a few others, including Madhepura, vote on April 30. The house of a local party worker, Lallan Sharaf, has been converted into a camp office for Nitish.

Madhepura seat party ke naak ka sawal hai. Nitishji ne Madhepura jeetne ke liye puri taqat laga di hai (Madhepura is a matter of prestige for the party. Nitishji has put in his all to ensure a win in Madhepura),” a party worker accompanying Nitish said, but requested that he not be named. JD(U) spokesman Sanjay Singh is Nitish’s “permanent companion” on his travels in the region.

Sources at his Madhepura camp office revealed that Nitish gets ready sharp at 10am every day to fly off to different areas of Madhepura, meeting people and addressing rallies. He also visits places in other constituencies — Madhubani, Darbhanga, Samastipur and Jhanjharpur — in the same region which too vote on April 30.

The chief minister returns to Madhepura around 5pm, holds consultations with party workers and supporters and instructs them on how to go about to step up the campaign in the phases to follow.

In between, keeping in mind his chief ministerial duties, he speaks to bureaucrats in Patna via video-conferencing. He is expected back in Patna on April 28 after campaigning ends for the fourth phase.

Nitish today addressed election meetings in Samastipur, Darbhanga, Madhubani and Jhanjharpur. Be it by coincidence or design, Nitish’s unnamed attacks on Narendra Modi had striking similarities with what the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi made on the BJP’s mascot in Gujarat today.

Main dharti par swarg la doonga. Main ye kar doonga and main woh kar doonga (I will bring heaven to earth. I will do this, I will do that),” Nitish quoted Modi (without naming him) as claiming at all his election meetings. “Main aur main (I and I only) — is his (Modi’s) style of functioning.” Nitish pointed out that for the past 12 days, he was asking how one man can do everything but he was not getting any answers.

Nitish’s remarks echoed those of Rahul Gandhi’s. The Congress leader mocked Modi as being “Main, Main, Main” while addressing election meetings at Devgadh Baria in Gujarat today.

Nitish’s Yogi-like concentration in Madhepura is being seen as his desperation to win the seat, which he has made a prestige issue. It is more so because Sharad Yadav, the party boss, is locked in a triangular contest involving the RJD’s Pappu Yadav and BJP’s Vijay Kushwaha.

Sharad had won Madhepura for the first time in 1991. Except in 1998, when Lalu Prasad had trounced him, Sharad has never tasted defeat in this Yadav-dominated seat. JD(U) strategists feel it will be a big blow to Nitish and his political fortune if he failed to ensure the victory of his party president from Madhepura.

Though a Yadav bastion and erstwhile stronghold of Lalu, Madhepura has so far been lucky for Nitish. The chief minister earned the sobriquet of “quintalia baba” by carrying out efficient rescue and relief work in the Kosi region devastated by the floods in 2008. (The nickname is so because he announced immediate supply of 2 quintals of foodgrain for every affected family.) He was rewarded by the people of the region with the JD(U) winning both the Lok Sabha seats — Madhepura and Supaul — in 2009 and 12 of the 13 Assembly seats in the Kosi region in 2010.

Local observers say that the JD(U) is in a tight spot in the Kosi region this time because of the break with the BJP and Nitish’s social equations going haywire.

Keeping in mind the tough road ahead, Nitish at times turns emotional in his rallies. “Mazdoor ko kaam ke ant mein mazdoori milta hai. Main bhi aap se uchit mazdoori ki ummid karta hoon aap ke seva ke badle (Every worker is paid wages at the end of a day’s work. I too expect genuine wages for the work I have done for you),” Nitish has been heard saying at many of his election meetings.


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