ARA/SASARAM: In the Rohtas-Bhojpur belt in south-western Bihar, two mini battles of the Lok Sabha are being fought with deep roots in the history of the region.
In Sasaram, a scheduled caste-tribe dominated turf once represented by the Dalit stalwart Babu Jagjivan Ram, his daughter Meira Kumar of the Congress — a Miranda House graduate, a 1973 batch ex-IFS officer and former diplomat, former Lok Sabha Speaker and once a presidential candidate — is fighting, perhaps, her last poll battle.
In adjacent Ara in Bhojpur, R K Singh, another ex-IAS officer and former Union home secretary, who is the sitting BJP MP, is seeking re-election against CPI-ML’s Raju Yadav, a Mahagathbandhan candidate, in what is turning out to be a do-or-die battle.
With two bureaucrats in the fray, the poll discourse in the two constituencies has been free from acrimony and no-holds-barred personal attacks that is being seen nationally.
“There is no ill-will, no foul language, no personal comment and no bluff. That’s how I practise my politics. I am simply highlighting the failures of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government and wish for the trust of the electorate,” says Meira Kumar.
She is respected and popularly called ‘Behenji’, with which she connects with the constituency her father had nurtured for decades.
“As a five-time MP from Bijnor in UP, Karol Bagh in Delhi and Sasaram in Bihar, she has always proved to be articulate, mature, affable and of the disciplined- tongue. Meira has never been known to be abusive of rivals. She personally takes care of her constituents needing health support in Delhi.” said Nirala Kumar, a voter.
“I have helped them with healthcare and jobs. Politics, I believe, is a godsent chance to serve the people and I try to do that only,” Meira says.
The Congress candidate was beaten by her BJP rival Chhedi Paswan in the 2014 Modi wave. The victor and sitting MP is sure of another term riding the Modi government’s development plank.
Chhedi has an advantage in that the mood in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh often influences voting in Sasaram and the NDA’s traditional vote bank with the matrix of SCs and EBCs make it easier for him. With Varanasi, the PM’s constituency, next door, “who needs convincing?” he says.
“I have been with the people of Sasaram round the year in their good and bad times. Voters won’t be misled by people who speak sweet but fail to perform, besides being occasional visitors here,” he says, in an obvious reference to his rival.
Radhika Raman Ram, a retired state government official said, “Meira Kumar promises development and an airport in Sasaram. Chhedi is seeking votes for the development work of the Centre.”
Like Meira, 1975-batch IAS officer-turned-politician R K Singh, too, is maintaining decency in electioneering and speeches in neighbouring Ara seat. “Known as an upright officer, his contribution in improving the conditions of roads has been immense. He served under Nitish Kumar-led NDA government as principal secretary in state road construction department before being picked up by former home minister LK Advani to work as a joint secretary in 1999,” Umesh Kumar, a BJP worker said.
Singh joined the BJP in 2013 and defeated RJD’s Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha to reach the Lok Sabha. This time, he faces a stern test with the RJD surprisingly giving up claims to Ara despite being electorally strong and backing CPI-ML’s Raju Yadav.
“Singh faces a tough contest,” Raghunath Kumar Gupta, a local political observer said. Nirmal Kumar Ojha, the priest of Ara’s Hanuman temple, says, “Local issues like the depleted Sone Canal system, farm crisis, unemployment and migration, besides crime have been buried while nationalism has caught on. But caste will finally decide the result.”