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Samastipur waits for ‘prince’ with magic wand

- Development issues haunt prospective parliamentarians with closed sugar, paper & jute mills
A banner of poll boycott put up by residents of Bahadurpur Harijan Tola. Picture by Ramashankar

Samastipur waits for the advent of another “Prince of Parliament” — the “messiah” who would restore the glory of the agriculture industry.

Voters fondly recall the late Satya Narayan Singh, the “perfumed” three-term Congress parliamentarian, and diehard socialist leader Karpoori Thakur. Satya Narayan was very popular among his friends for his red roses and was fondly nicknamed the “Prince of Parliament”.

Senior citizens proudly remember Satya Narayan’s proximity to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who he used to offer red roses on a regular basis. It was because of his proximity to Pandit Nehru that this Congress parliamentarian from Bihar’s hinterland was made minister at the Centre twice — once minister for telecommunication and then parliamentary affairs minister.

Satya Narayan represented the seat till 1967. “Satya Narayan was often found sporting a Nehru style suit and churidar-pyjama, which suited him best. He was fond of perfumes also,” said Surendra Prasad Singh, a retired teacher of psychology at Samastipur College, adding that the seat used to play an important role in the nation’s political scenario.

Many voters take pride in recalling diehard socialist leader Karpoori Thakur, who rose to become the chief minister. Both leaders (Satya Narayan and Thakur) were great parliamentarians. “We hardly find any of the features in the current crop of leaders that these two great representatives from this constituency possessed,” lamented Surendra Prasad Singh, a professor who resides on Mohanpur Road in Samastipur town, around 110km northeast of Patna.

In recognising the importance of agriculture in the area, the British rulers had started a farm research institute in Pusa. The foundation stone of the Pusa institute was laid by then viceroy, Lord Curzon, in 1905.

Samastipur fell in bad days also. The ruins of a jute factory (Rameshwar Jute Mill), sugar factory and Thakur Paper Mill bore testimony to the golden period. Hundreds of workers once used to work day and night at these industrial units. “Industry has gone to the dogs. It has never been the priority of any of the leaders, who represented the constituency, be it Ajit Mehta, Ram Sevak Hazari, or for that matter the sitting JD(U) MP, Maheshwar Hazari,” said Santosh Kumar, a transporter of Dhurkal panchayat in Samastipur district.

The issue of granting central university status to the Rajendra Agricultural University (RAU) in Pusa, around 22km west of the district headquarters, is raised during every election. “But the proposal has been gathering dust at the Centre,” claimed sitting MP Hazari, who is seeking re-election from the seat.

Hazari, who is locked in a three-cornered contest with Ashok Ram of the Congress backed by the RJD, and Ram Chandra Paswan of the LJP (in alliance with the BJP), doesn’t forget to tell voters that he had raised the issue of granting central university status to RAU in Parliament. The matter was even put up for debate, he informs.

However, it could not see the light of day. The JD(U) hopeful reiterates his promise to the voters, saying: “If I am elected from this constituency for a second time, I will certainly fulfil the long-cherished demand of the people of the area.” He enlists a number of road and bridge projects that have been completed in the constituency in the past five years.

Hazari is mainly banking on the development work carried out by the Nitish Kumar government. “There is no wave for Narendra Modi in this constituency. Sab hawa-hawai hai. Result aane par haqueeqat pata chal jayega (There is no Modi wave. The real picture will emerge once the results are out),” says businessman Anil Choudhary.

Choudhary has a point to substantiate his claim. “Nitish’s development work during the past eight years (which includes the period of the BJP-JDU alliance) is certainly a factor in this election. Everybody wants smooth roads, improved law and order and healthcare, which have been catered to the voters of the constituency,” he asserts.

But there are some voters, who want to go for Modi. “We want a powerful government at the Centre,” maintains Upendra Kumar Mishra, the owner of an engineering works unit here.

The change is palpable. Congress nominee Ram — who got his degree from Patna Medical College and even worked as government doctor for some time before stepping into politics — has an edge over his rivals. He has a strong political ground. His father, the late Baleshwar Ram, was a Union minister from 1982-85. “He is the only candidate who enjoys support from the electorate cutting across party lines,” claimed Thakur Manoj Bhardwaj, a resident of Bishanpur.

Ram has a clean image. Tarun Kumar, a former Youth Congress state president, said the candidate’s image would certainly play an important role. While two former MPs — Maheshwar and Paswan, brother of LJP chief Ram Vilas, are distant relatives, Ram is well-educated and belongs to a family with a strong political background. “Congress candidate bedag chhabi ke hain isiliye sabhi ka aashirvad unko prapta hain. Islikye inki jeet awashya hogi (Congress candidates have a clean image, so they get everybody’s blessings. Their victory is certain),” Kumar added.

Paswan, the LJP candidate, is mainly banking on the BJP-LJP alliance to get a berth in the 16th Lok Sabha. “The alliance is going to benefit Paswan, who earlier represented the Rosera (SC) Assembly seat in Samastipur district twice. He had unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha poll from Samastipur in 2009 also,” said Ramsumiran Singh, the state vice-president of the BJP Kisan Morcha (farmers’ cell).

Keshav Jha of Manika echoed similar views. “Paswan to majboori hai, lekin Modi jaroori hain (We support Paswan for the sake of Modi),” Jha said. Even newly elected Rajya Sabha MP and former Bihar minister Ramnath Thakur has no qualms in admitting that Modi would be a factor. “Though I don’t see any wave in favour of Modi in the Samastipur parliamentary constituency, Modi’s name has created ripples among the voters of a certain section,” Ramnath, the second son of socialist leader Karpoori, said.

Both local and national issues are dominating the scene in Samastipur. Around 200 inhabitants of Bahadurpur Harijan Tola belonging to the Paswan community have decided to boycott the poll. “See the plight of the residents here. People are forced to live in hellish conditions. Drain water has entered the houses. Most residents have fled their homes and are staying with their relatives. No candidate has visited the locality despite the fact that they all belong to the Dalit community,” said Bhola Paswan.

l Samastipur votes on April 30