PATNA: At a massively attended rally at Kursakanta in Bihar’s Araria district, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, 29, was greeted with cheers of approval when he referred to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, 67, as “paltu chacha” (avuncular figure who habitually changes sides).
Tejashwi, the 29-year-old younger son and heir apparent of jailed RJD chief Lalu Prasad, was jeering at the JD(U) president for having “betrayed the mandate” by joining hands with the BJP after contesting the 2015 Assembly polls against it and winning with RJD support.
Tejashwi’s repeated references to JD-U re-aligning with “communal BJP” are not without a reason. The upcoming bypoll for the Muslim-dominated Araria Lok Sabha constituency is the first major test for Tejashwi in the absence of his charismatic father.
At the same time, the bypoll has also become a prestige issue for the state’s ruling BJP and JD(U) after BJP’s impressive show in the Northeast. But the allies are confident their “double engine” government — powered by the popularity of both CM Nitish and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and their development oriented politics — would romp home with the seat.
This round of bypolls —for Araria and the Assembly seats of Jehanabad and Bhabhua — slated for March 11, are going to be a barometer of Bihar’s complex electoral winds in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the Assembly polls scheduled in 2020.
All eyes are riveted on Araria, where Muslims account for 41 per cent of the population. Despite the pro-Modi wave in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls that swept 31 out of Bihar’s 40 seats into NDA’s kitty, it was RJD veteran Mohd Taslimuddin who won in Araria with a margin of 1.46 lakh votes. His death last September necessitated the bypoll.
BJP’s Pradeep Kumar Singh, who was the runner-up, is now NDA’s candidate locked in a direct contest against Taslimuddin’s son Sarfaraz Alam of the RJD-Congress alliance. Alam was a JD(U) legislator till a couple of days before filing of nomination, when he dramatically defected to the RJD.
Tejashwi, who is leading the campaign for the embattled RJD and a lacklustre Congress, appears mindful about fortifying and gaining from the Muslim-Yadav combination, assiduously cultivated by his father. Of the 17 lakh voters in Araria, RJD’s traditional support base of Muslims and Yadavs account for more than half — 41 per cent Muslims and 10 per cent Yadavs. Out of the six Assembly segments in the constituency, four have a sizeable presence of either the Yadavs or the Muslims.
Now that ex-CM Jitan Ram Manjhi and LJP leader Anil Sadhu have joined the RJD, the party also hopes to get the support of SC and EBC communities.
However, the combined votes polled by JD(U) and BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls give NDA an apparent edge in Araria. “While the RJD had won 41.81 per cent votes, the BJP and the JD(U) had bagged 26.80 per cent and 22.73 per cent votes, respectively. These hard facts, seen in light of the rapid statewide development carried out by the double engine government, tell the story in Araria,” said BJP leader Prem Ranjan Patel.
The two rival camps have the arithmetic of vote shares and caste calculations, respectively, giving them confidence in the flagship battle of Araria, but the air remains misty as the voters have a tough choice before them.