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In birthplace of republic, old warhorse battles bahubalis

Vaishali Lok Sabha NDA candidate Rama Singh campaigns in Muzaffarpur. Picture by Nagendra Kumar Singh

The battle for Vaishali, the birthplace of the world’s first republic, has boiled down to a fight among bahubalis (musclemen). And in the vortex is caught the five-term RJD MP and former Union rural development minister, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

If Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, a don-turned politician, is burning the midnight oil to keep aglow the lantern (the RJD’s party symbol), Surajbhan Singh and Lallu Singh, both known for their muscle power, are arrayed on the other side. Surajbhan and Lallu are backing the BJP-backed Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) candidate, Ramakishore alias Rama Singh, who himself faces charges of kidnapping, murder and extortion.

Making the battle fiercer is Annu Shukla, the legislator from Lalganj and wife of former controversial JD(U) MLA Vijay Kumar alias Munna Shukla. Munna, serving a sentence in connection with the murder of former Bihar minister Brij Bihari Prasad, is currently lodged in the Bhagalpur Central Jail.

Munna is learnt to have appealed from inside the prison to support his life partner, who distanced herself from Nitish Kumar’s party after being denied a ticket. Annu is contesting the election as an Independent.

Mein apne pati ke raksha ki bheekh mang rahi hoon. Woh salakhon ke peeche bandh hain aur aap hin unki raksha kar sakte hain (I am begging for the safety of my husband who is behind the bars. It’s you who can help him out),” Annu told a gathering at Devaria Bazzar, around 80km northwest of Patna.

Annu doesn’t forget to remind people of the Shukla family’s legacy that she has inherited. “Our family has been solidly behind you whenever you needed us. I too will lend my full support to you whenever you need. Akhir me Vaishali ki bahu aur beti bhi toh hoon (After all I am the daughter and daughter in-law of Vaishali),” she says proudly.

Rama Singh, a Rajput by caste, is backed by the BJP, which has a solid base at the grassroots level in the constituency. The campaign for Rama Singh reached a crescendo after Surajbhan, a former MP of Balia, took command of the electioneering in Vaishali’s Kanti, Vaishali and Minapur Assembly segments, dominated by Bhumihars.

Raghuvansh Prasad Singh campaigns in Motipur. Picture by Lokesh Bihari

Mein aa gaya hoon, chinta ki koi baat nahi. Sab thik ho jayega (I have come. There is no need to worry. Everything will be set right),” Surajbhan told Rama Singh at his party campaign office in Devaria Bazaar. Surajbhan, whose wife Beena Devi contested the election from Munger Lok Sabha constituency, is considered close to LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan and enjoys immense clout among the Bhumihar voters.

Locals are now stunned to see Lallu Singh standing beside Surajbhan. Lallu had luckily survived during the fierce attack on Onkar Singh, a trusted lieutenant of Brij Bihari Prasad, near zero mile on the outskirts of Muzaffarpur town in 1995-96. Surajbhan, who at that time was associated with the Chhotan Shukla group, was made an accused in Onkar’s murder. The attack on Onkar was a fallout of the daring murder of Chhotan Shukla allegedly by the goons of Brij Bihari Prasad, a minister in Lalu’s cabinet, in December 1994.

Surajbhan campaigning for Rama Singh has left many voters of his Bhumihar caste flummoxed. “When Bhumihars refused to take the call of Munger sitting MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh, who campaigned for JD(U) candidate Vijay Sahni, then how can Surajbhan be able to convince his caste men to vote for a Rajput candidate, that too one who has criminal antecedents,” asked Ratnesh Singh, a resident of Kalbari, a Bhumihar-dominated village. Lalan Singh’s request was outright rejected by the people belonging to “Bramharshi Samaj”, an outfit of the Bhumihar caste men.

Political pundits feel that if Rajputs, who are in sizeable numbers in Minapur, Paroo, Sahebganj and Baruraj Assembly segments, vote for Rama Singh, the Bhumihars would favour Annu Shukla. Both castes are at daggers drawn in the area. However, a section of voters in Tengari village, which is dominated by Rajputs and comes under Minapur Assembly segment, claimed that this time Rajputs would vote for Rama Singh.

Former zila parishad (district board) member and influential leader of Rajputs in Minapur, Prakash Singh, said: “Last time we had voted for Raghuvansh babu. But this time, the scene is different due to the Narendra Modi factor,” he said.

Raghuvansh, 68, is facing his toughest challenge ever, but is confident. “I am no match for my political rivals. How can you compare me with them? They are no challenge at all,” he says. Raghuvansh ticks off a list of the development work he has carried out since 1996. “Go to any village, you will see the kind of work I have done in my constituency. I am among those MPs who spend most of his time with the people of his constituency.”

That Raghuvansh is facing the anti-incumbency factor in the constituency can be gauged from the fact that Lalu and his family members — Rabri Devi (wife), Misa Bharti (daughter) and Tejaswi (son) — have been campaigning for him. “The Yadavs are not going to support Raghuvansh babu. He has failed to ensure the victory of any MLA belonging to the Yadav community in Vaishali and Muzaffarpur. He has been doing politics against Yadav interest,” says Arvind Kumar Yadav, a resident of Yadav-dominated Dobarbandh village in Paroo.

Raghuvansh asks the people to bring back the lost glory of Vaishali, the cradle of the world’s first republic, and not vote for the gun culture represented by the bahubalis. “Our main aim is to bring back the lost glory of Vaishali. The people of the historical place, the birthplace of the old Lachchvi Ganrajya, will repeat its history and elect their MP having a clean image,” he says.

Vaishali votes on May 12


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