Roll of the dais

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By JP YADAV IN SONEPUR
  • Published 26.10.10
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“Main yahan sewa bhaw se aayi hoon... (I have come here with the intention to serve you...),” reads a billboard on a jeep going around seeking votes for Rabri Devi in Sonepur constituency. It’s Rabri’s justification for contesting from Sonepur in addition to Raghopur, a constituency she had represented thrice.

But it is not easy to fool the voters these days. “We have seen how she had served the state. The real reason is that Lalu fears that his wife could lose from Raghopur and so he has got her to contest from here too,” declared Raghav Singh of Nayagaon.

Sonepur Assembly segment is part of Chhapra Lok Sabha constituency represented by RJD chief Lalu Prasad. People here recalled how even Lalu had contested from a second seat, Patliputra, in the last Lok Sabha polls. Lalu lost Patliputra and retained Chhapra, after toiling day and night.

For Rabri too, it’s not going to be a cakewalk in Sonepur. The bad omen in the tragic start of campaigning by the Yadav duo in the constituency is not missed by the voters. The stage had collapsed in Sabalpur on Lalu and Rabri’s first day of campaigning. “Pehlehi din stage dhas gaya. Aage lagta hai khatra hai (First day itself the stage collapsed. It seems there is danger ahead),” said Jagdish Prasad in Sonepur.

People in general believe Rabri had a slight edge over her rival, Binay Singh of the BJP, due to caste equations in the constituency and also some development brought by Lalu as railway minister in UPA I. Sonepur has a substantial presence of Yadavs but upper caste Rajputs rival them with a marginally lower population. Singh is a Rajput.

That the road ahead will not be easy for Rabri can be gauged from the results of the last election. RJD’s Ramanuj Prasad (Yadav) won by a margin of just about 1,100 votes. Rajputs and Yadavs traditionally do not see eye to eye in the entire Chhapra region and it gets accentuated when anyone from the Lalu family is a candidate.

Lalu, however, has tried to blunt it by getting in his fold rebel former JD (U) MP Prabhunath Singh, considered to be a leader of Rajputs in the region. It seemed to be working at least to some extent.

On Saturday, Mithilesh Singh and Ramashish Rai (Yadav) were having tea together at Lochan Sahu’s shop in Sitalpur. Asked whether Rabri would be able to sail through easily, Singh said: “Jeet jana chahiye (She should win).”

Tea stall owner Sahu, a BJP supporter, said: “Rajputs and Yadavs seemed to have buried their enmity. But it will not hold for long.” Singh picked holes in Nitish’s claim of development in the area and felt that Lalu had done more than him.

“Laluji has given a wheel factory here. Work is going on and when it is ready people of the area would get jobs. Nitish has only built some roads and they too are eroding after the monsoon,” Singh said.

The rail wheel factory sanctioned by Lalu as railway minister is coming up just 2km off the road from Sitalpur market. Though technically it falls under the neighbouring Parsa constituency, Singh said it would offer job opportunities all around. Singh also pointed out that Lalu as railway minister had got employment even for Rajput youths of the area.

Not many Rajputs, however, felt that Lalu’s development would sway the community. “Only some, who have been direct beneficiary could vote. Majority would choose the BJP that has fielded our caste man who is a good person,” said Sangram Singh, just a km away.

Yadavs were found seething with anger against the sitting RJD MLA. “Had the sitting MLA been fielded again we would have shooed him out. But now since Rabri has come we have to support her,” said Awadhesh Rai (Yadav) of Nayagaon Sitalpur, pointing out that the unpopularity of the sitting MLA could also be the reason for Rabri entering the fray herself. With the contest looking keen, Muslim and Dalit votes would turn crucial. Muslim voters — around 10 thousand here — appeared keen to see Nitish back but cited the difficulty in pressing the lotus button (BJP’s symbol) on the EVM. But Muslim youths at Nizam Chowk admitted they would overcome it to vote back Nitish.

“We are not voting for the BJP but for Nitish. We want peace and development,” said Qasim Ali, who runs a garage in Patna. Elderly Muslims in villages off the road did not agree with Ali but admitted that at least 25 per cent Muslims in the constituency would press the lotus button for Nitish’s government. “Many progressive Muslims feel they face no danger in Nitish’s regime. He has kept the BJP under check in Bihar. But I feel that majority will vote for Rabri,” said Abdul Khaliq, a landlord.

With the Muslim vote appearing divided and majority of the Dalits backing Nitish due to his government’s policy of extending largesse to deprived sections of the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Rabri seems to be locked in a tough battle. Lalu is learnt to have planned extensive campaigning by road to see his better half scrape through.

Sonepur: 30km northwest of Patna

Total voters: 2.24 lakh

Key candidates: Rabri Devi (RJD), Binay Singh (BJP)

X-FACTOR: Emotional attachment of Lalu with the region. Chhapra had elected him MP in 1977 and then he represented Sonepur as MLA for two terms — 1980-89. Also, Rabri Devi is the former chief minister and Lalu has replaced her to project himself as the chief ministerial candidate. Split in the Muslim vote could spell trouble for Rabri as the constituency witnesses a direct contest

THE BUZZ: Collapse of stage on the first day of campaigning by Lalu-Rabri is being viewed as bad omen by the voters

ECONOMIC FACTOR: Agriculture forms the mainstay. Sonepur, hosts the world’s largest animal fair in November every year and extends an opportunity to people here to open make some fast money by opening food stalls. Each year, however, the fair has been shrinking. Rail wheel factory is coming up but it still has a long way to go

UPPER HAND: RJD’s Rabri Devi due to caste equations and some development work by Lalu as railway minister