(Top) Narendra Modi with sitting MP Kirti Azad (in orange kurta) at the Raj Ground rally in Darbhanga last week. (Bottom) RJD chief Lalu Prasad on Tuesday took a cue from the Trinamul Congress and lashed out at Modi, saying “even a butcher is shy of him”. Lalu, who was speaking at Muzaffarpur’s Kanti Maidan, was referring to the no-holds-barred attack of Mamata Banerjee’s party that Modi was the “butcher of Gujarat”. Pictures by Lokesh Bihari
Kirti Azad is on a sticky wicket and the man who has put him on that isn’t a political heavyweight.
The BJP MP from Darbhanga, whose campaign received a fillip towards the end with a rally of Narendra Modi, is facing a stiff challenge from an unlikely source: a doctor who left a flourishing practice in the US to return and work for his native place.
Dr Prabhat Ranjan Das, 59, is contesting the elections on a ticket of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Das, who completed his MBBS course from Darbhanga Medical College and Hospital (1977-1982), and went to the US to practice in 1989, returned to his native place last year.
Darbhanga, the doctor says with confidence, will reward him for his work.
“In spite of being settled in the US, I have closely been associated with Darbhanga, my hometown,” he said. “My sacrifices for the people of Darbhanga and its adjoining areas would not go un-rewarded.”
Das, the eldest of three brothers — one of his siblings is a serving IPS officer and the other a doctor abroad — said: “I was born and brought up in Darbhanga. I got my education right from primary level to MBBS from Darbhanga itself. Now I want to serve the land which brought me to this level. Main is dharti ka karz utarne aaya hoon (I have come to repay the debt I owe this land),” he said.
Das set up a non-government organisation — Dr Prabhat Ranjan Das Foundation — in 2006. The organisation set up public libraries in remote areas of Darbhanga and its five neighbouring districts, imparted computer and sewing training to women, carried out relief work at the time of natural calamities and organised quiz competitions for hundreds of school students free of cost.
“The programmes were organised without any financial support of the government,” he says.
The doctor has used this foundation to build up a strong network in remote areas.
“I have been rendering my services to the people free of cost. I don’t charge anything as fee from the people of Darbhanga for providing them medical advice as a medical practitioner. My wife, who is also a doctor in the US, supports me in my work,” Das told The Telegraph.
Das, a Karn Kayastha by caste, is expected to dent the votes of Kirti Azad. Unlike previous elections, it would not be a cakewalk for Azad, who, the majority of the electors complained, never bothered to visit the constituency after being elected in 2009. “Kirti Azad is facing a tough challenge this time from his rival MAA Fatmi of the RJD, who has a solid backing of the Muslim-Yadav (MY) combination,” said Sudhakar Mishra, a resident of Adarsh Colony (Housing Board Colony) at Darbhanga.
Muslims constitute around 13 per cent of the voters in Darbhanga parliamentary constituency, which consists of Darbhanga Town, Jale, Hayaghat and Benipur Assembly segments. Brahmins and Scheduled Castes each contribute around 12 per cent of the total voters. Rajputs, Yadavs, Baniyas (members of trading community) and Kayastha are also in sizable numbers. A section of Rajputs is still with the RJD.
“It’s a matter of concern for Kirti Azad that another Brahmin, Sanjay Kumar Jha, is in the fray and contesting as a nominee of the JD(U),” said Md. Murtaza, who works at a primary health centre on the outskirts of Laheriasarai town.
Sanjay Jha is considered close to chief minister Nitish Kumar. “Jha, who originally belongs to neighbouring Madhubani district, is a force to reckon with. He is set to eat into the votes of Kirti Azad, making the going tough for the former Indian cricketer,” said Rohit Kumar, an RTI activist of Darbhanga.
The pitch has become slightly favourable for Kirti Azad to bat on after the visit of Narendra Modi to Darbhanga. “Modi ki sabha se unki sthiti me sudhar hua hai (Modi’s visit has helped improve his position),” said a diehard Modi supporter of Panda Bazar, not far from the residence of Fatmi.
Only time can tell whether Azad, who is often seen talking to voters in Maithili dialect to prove that he was their “ghar ka ladka”, will reap the benefits of Modi’s visit.
Prof. Gaurishankar Roy, a retired teacher of Psychology at LN Mithila University, Darbhanga, said the victory of the candidates would solely depend on the combination of castes and political parties. “Had it not been the case, Dr PR Das, who is the most suitable candidate among those in the fray, would have become a favourite of the electorate of Darbhanga,” he added.
Prof. Roy sees an extreme level of frustration among the voters of the constituencies in Mithila region. MPs have not been able to use their funds properly for carrying out development work. Corruption is at the highest level. People have to bribe officials for their work. On the other, the government has lost its grip on the officials, who are working whimsically, leading to complete breakdown of the administrative system at the grassroots level.
“The officials are not working. The farmers are the worst sufferers. Nobody is ready to redress their grievances. Subsidy on diesel announced by the government also fell victim to official babudom and corruption. The crime rate is escalating, which has sent the message that there is no difference between Lalu-Rabri regime and that of Nitish Kumar,” Prof Roy added.
Darbhanga votes today