The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Laloo to Paswan: stirrings of a swing

Shahpur (Bhojpur), Jan. 30: For 15 years, the Rashtriya Janata Dal has flaunted communal harmony as the biggest achievement of its governments. Now the claim is coming under strain.

Interviews among Muslim voters of Rani Sagar village in this constituency indicated that the community is looking at alternatives to Laloo Prasad Yadav's party.

'If Ram Vilas Paswan becomes chief minister, will communal riots break out in Bihar' retorts M.I. Khan, an elderly villager, when asked why Muslims should vote for anyone other than Laloo Prasad.

'What security is Laloo Prasad talking about' The community has to move beyond being his votebank. Muslims also want development and Laloo Prasad has failed on that front. The rethink is welcome. We are definitely considering alternatives,' he says.

Khan's is not an isolated case. Laloo Prasad is, perhaps, aware of this change. Otherwise, he is not known to openly court ulemas from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, who make no bones about their preference for the ruling party.

In his public posturing, however, Laloo Prasad describes all speculation of a 'swing' as baseless. 'Muslims are solidly with the RJD. The election results will establish the hollow claims of Paswan and the entire media,' he says.

The Brahmin-dominated Shahpur is witnessing a fierce battle among the RJD's Shivanand Tiwary, Janata Dal (United)'s Shobha Devi, Lok Janshakti Party's Dharmapal Singh and Tej Narayan Singh of the Samajwadi Party.

Tiwary, a former minister, had contested the Lok Sabha elections, too, but finished a poor third behind the BJP candidate and Dadan Pehalwan, now the Bihar head of the Samajwadi Party.

The absence of any 'wave' or an emotive rallying point, it appears, would help voters plan their strategy. 'We appreciate Laloo Prasad's decision to order a probe into the Godhra train fire. But what happened to the inquiry into the Bhagalpur communal riots' The culprits went scot-free. The RJD president must provide an answer,' says Mohammad Taslimuddin.

However, there are some who continue to be hardcore RJD supporters. 'I think peace comes before anything, even development. Agar fasaad hoga to vikas ka kya karenge (if there are riots, what will we do with development)' This is Laloo Prasad's biggest contribution to Muslims and they will continue to support him,' says Mushtaq Ahmad.

The party's biggest worry is a possible 'split' in the Brahmin, Yadav and Muslim votes. The Dal (U) candidate is a Brahmin and the wife of local strongman Visheshwar Ojha. A good number of Yadavs could back Pehalwan, a fierce opponent of the RJD.

'We have nothing personal against Tiwary. But he is definitely in the wrong party, which has paid little attention to development. The presence of a Brahmin candidate from the JD (U) will make a difference,' says Chakradhar Pandey of Bilauti village.

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