Bhang buddy misses Vajpayee on Buxar battlefield

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By NISHIT DHOLABHAI IN BUXAR
  • Published 11.04.09
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At least one man is missing Atal Bihari Vajpayee this election.

For four terms, Lalmuni Chaubey has romped home easy, riding the crest of Vajpayee’s vote-catching skills. There wasn’t need for the Buxar MP to budge out of home or work with his constituents; Vajpayee worked his magic in poll season, they enjoyed their bhang together in the evenings and all was well.

But with Vajpayee ailing and out of circulation this time, Chaubey’s luck might just run out.

“Why me, the whole country misses his (Vajpayee’s) presence,” the BJP MP told The Telegraph after Shatrughan Sinha’s rally for him in Buxar, about 150km from Patna.

The 66-year-old Chaubey has never been quite the ambitious politician, aspiring to snazzy cars or sprawling bungalows. Known to be an honest man, he has been quite happy with his rickety jeep and modest homes in nearby Bhabua and Varanasi.

But not for him the hurly-burly of electioneering and man-to-man contact with his voters, either. That was Vajpayee’s department — the two have known each other since their Jan Sangh days in the sixties — and he would take care of it.

Rinam kritva ghritam peevet, javat jivam sukham jeevet (Have ghee even with debt, but live a full life),” the man replied, quoting ancient philosopher Charvak, when asked how he proposed to make up for Vajpayee’s absence and turn around the seething Bhumihars in his constituency.

The Bhumihars, a traditionally pro-BJP people, are apparently extremely angry at Chaubey’s casual attitude and absolute certainty that he would win votes despite not meeting them too often over five years.

“Ask anyone if they have seen him ever,” fumed Deepak Rai of Old Bhojpur, a village in Buxar.

“The Bhumihars have decided to reject him,” added Jaiprakash Rai of Ekauna village.

Sources said three Bhumihar-dominated villages — Nainijore, Dumri and Simri — were so resentful that at a community panchayat last week they had decided to dump Chaubey and vote for the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Tell Chaubey that, and the man quips: “If I have to visit 3,500 villages, I would have to be travelling for 10 years.”

The NDA, however, appears aware that the danger of a hole in its Shahbad bastion is real. Shahbad comprises the four Lok Sabha constituencies of Ara, Buxar, Sasaram and Karakat.

Possibly as a balm for the Bhumihars, the BJP had actor-turned politician Shatrughan Sinha making frantic appeals at the Dumraon rally to “ignore the caste factor” this time.

The loss of Bhumihar support is likely to be crucial for Chaubey as there would be 50,000 votes less in his kitty. His margin of victory in 2004 was just 60,000, despite Vajpayee.

The swing in voter mood comes at a time Bhumihars across Bihar have been moving away from the RJD and tilting to the BJP. Reports said they were annoyed with Rabri Devi’s comment that Lallan Singh was Nitish Kumar’s “brother-in-law”. Lallan is a Bhumihar and the state party chief of Nitish’s Janata Dal (United).

People have apparently also begun wondering why the four-time MP has never been made minister. Even during Vajpayee’s regime, the Bihar quota in the cabinet was filled up with candidates from the NDA’s partners, although the then Prime Minister had insisted Chaubey be given a ticket amid much opposition.

Chaubey will be up against the BSP’s Shyamlal Singh Kushwaha, Congress’s K.K. Tiwary, RJD’s Jagdanand Singh and Independent Dadan “Pahalwan” Yadav.

“Let (BJP leader) C.P. Thakur’s son Vivek campaign for a while. Then let’s see,” said a hardcore BJP supporter among the Bhumihars.