Chacha-Bhatija and the slugfest with NDA in Lalu land

Chacha-Bhatija and the slugfest with NDA in Lalu land

The political legacy of RJD chief Lalu Prasad is at stake in two seats in Vaishali, one of the world’s oldest republics and capital of the Lichhavi clan, where the NDA is trying hard to eclipse the ‘sonrise’ by fielding two rebel sitting MLAs of JD(U) against his sons.

With leaders having switched loyalties, there is confusion galore for voters and party cadres in Raghopur and Mahua constituencies, which go to polls on October 28 in the third phase.

JD(U) and RJD had locked horns for the two seats over the last 15 years before Lalu Prasad and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar buried their differences to forge an alliance to take on a resurgent BJP after the Modi juggernaut virtually decimated them in the Lok Sabha polls with NDA bagging 31 of the state's 40 seats.

The result is that both the JD(U) candidates, who trounced RJD nominees in the last assembly polls, are taking on RJD supremo's sons while riding the NDA bandwagon.
Lalu’s sons Tej Pratap Yadav (27) and Tejaswi Yadav(25), are banking as much on their father's yadav caste vote bank as on "chacha" Nitish Kumar to take on Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) nominee Ravindra Rai in Mahua and ‘giant killer’ Satish Kumar in Raghopur. Kumar had humbled Lalu's wife and former Chief Minister Rabri Devi in the last poll.

Since yadavas constitute the largest voting bloc in the area, the JD(U) had in 2010 fielded Rai and Satish, both yadavas from Mahua and Raghopur. Both had won, with Satish Kumar's triumph earning his the sobriquet of ‘giant killer’.

RJD supporters, however, insist that Lalu’s sons have a clear edge, especially after the coming together of Lalu and Nitish. RJD leaders are also spreading the buzz that Lalu’s sons are up for Deputy Chief Ministership if the grand alliance wins the polls though the RJD chief himself downplays this.

Addressing election rallies in Raghopur, Tejaswi seeks to allay apprehensions that he will not devote time to the constituency and promises he is ready to construct a house there and stay permanently to work for the people.

Stumping in the two constituencies, Nitish Kumar says Tej Pratap and Tejaswi are not only Lalu’s sons but also "my candidates". In Raghopur, he asks his supporters to "chase away" Satish Kumar. He says the 'giant killer' tag to Kumar was a "misnomer".

"If you ensure Tejaswi’s win, I will take care of Raghopur’s development," Kumar says.
Satish Kumar, who is contesting on a BJP ticket, however, ridicules Nitish, saying JD(U) has no cadre base in the constituency.

"Last time also, it was the BJP workers who worked for me, though I was contesting on JD(U) ticket. This time also I am the NDA candidate. This time round BJP workers will work all the more harder as I am a BJP candidate," he said. Rabri had earlier defeated Satish Kumar in Raghopur in October 2005 polls.

Attacking the Bihar Chief Minister, Satish says, "Nitish Kumar broke the alliance with BJP because of his Prime Ministerial ambitions and joined hands with the symbol of jungle raj Lalu Prasad. People will not vote for Lalu dynasty here."

The size of the gathering at a rally of Sushil Modi, a major contender for chief ministership if the NDA is voted to power, a day after Nitish Kumar addressed an election meeting in Raghopur, could be worrying for Tejaswi. Rivals are attacking Lalu’s sons over their educational qualification and ‘lavish’ life style.

Addressing a rally in Raghopur, Sushil Modi referred to a Rs 17-lakh motorcycle that Tejaswi rides and which he has declared in his poll affidavit, and asked voters do they have such an expensive bike. Lalu's rivals ask what will the RJD chief do for Bihar if he could not educate his sons.

Tejaswi was a student of a Delhi school but did not pursue studies beyond Class 9. He opted to become a cricketer before turning a businessman and social activist, according to his election affidavit.

Attacking Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan says people of Raghopur gave two Chief Ministers-- Lalu and Rabri-- to Bihar but they gave "nothing" to the constituency. Addressing a rally in favour or Satish Kumar, he also alleged that as Railway Minister had approved a railway bridge for Raghopur, which Lalu shifted to Digha.
NDA is banking big on Paswan in Vaishali district as the LJP chief represents the adjacent Hajipur Parliamentary constituency. However, a rebellion by LJP MP from Vaishali Rama Singh could pose troubles for NDA nominees in both Raghopur and Mahua.

Lalu Prasad have represented Raghopur seat twice and Rabri Devi thrice in the past. Lalu has held a number of meetings here since Tejaswai filed nomination.

RJD supporters say that the before Lalu-Rabri era, Raghopur's villages were simply disconnected islands surrounded by the Ganga and Gandak rivers, which could be reached only by boats. Roads, electricity, health centres have come to the constituency, which saw further prosperity during Nitish Kumar's tenure, they say.

Unemployment, however, remains a key problem and young people could be seen whiling away time in the riverine areas.

Unlike Raghopur, which sports a somewhat city look, Mahua is predominantly rural and looks lagging behind in development and connectivity.

In Mahua, HAM candidate Rai is banking heavily on Mahadalit votes.
Rai was suspended by JD(U) in June last year for anti-party activities after he had fallen foul of Nitish Kumar. Reacting strongly to his suspension Rai had then said it showed the extent of "hatred" Kumar had for Yadavas. "There are dozens of rebel MLAs, but only I have been singled out," Rai had said.

Rabri Devi is leaving no stone unturned for her elder son Tej Pratap in the seat and has been visiting there regularly to ensure that the debutant politician emerges victorious. Lalu’s focus has been more on Raghopur amid the buzz that he is keen to pass the baton to his younger son Tejaswi.

Despite the yadavas being the preponderant caste, both Raghopur and Mahua have sizeable population of extremely backward castes (EBC) and Mahadalits.

Vinod Kumar from Kutubpur village in Raghopur says it would be a keen contest between Tejaswi Yadav and Satish Kumar, while first time voter Jitendra Kumar Poddar, who runs a photo studio, feels Lalu's son has an edge.

Suresh Singh from Maniharpur village says that voting in the region will happen on caste lines. He praises Nitish Kumar for improved law and order and road connectivity in the area but makes no bones about preferences.

"We are voting for Delhi (hum log vote Dilli ko de rahe hain)," he says, insisting that BJP is the preferred choice for non-yadav voters.

Countering Lalu’s pitch of forward versus backward caste battle, Sushil Modi asked people in Raghopur "is Satish Kumar not a yadav, not an OBC?"  and attacked the RJD chief for "promoting only his family".

BJP MP Manoj Tiwari, a noted Bhojpuri singer, is addressing back to back rallies in favour of NDA candidates and regaling the crowds with his popular numbers.

To counter Tiwari, RJD has brought another well-known Bhojpuri singer Chhotu Chhaliya.
"It is Rabri Devi’s seat. A victory in Raghopur will send a message to all eight seats in the district," says a speaker at Tejaswi’s rally cautioning the youth against falling for Narendra Modi’s promises as they did in last Lok Sabha polls.

Aware that the votes of numerically smaller backward castes would matter in the highly fragmented politics of Bihar, former Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur’s son Ram Nath Thakur is given prominence at the grand alliance's rallies.

Thakur addresses Tejaswi as his nephew and appeals to voters to "strengthen Nitish Kumar’s hand for Bihar’s development". Thakur is a Rajya Sabha member of JD(U).

Karpoori Thakur was first non-Congress socialist Chief Minister of Bihar in the seventies, who belonged rhw EBC barber caste and had his appeal transcended across castes.

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