DARBHANGA: Erstwhile Darbhanga Maharaja Kameshwar Singh’s majestic palace rises like an impregnable fortress in the heart of the town, a reminder of the long line of Karnat kings, who ruled the land of makhana (fox nuts) in Mithilanchal. Mithilanchal is also the land of Bhakti poet Vidyapati.
But like the innumerable Rolls Royce’s of the kings and the Royal Railway, the sheen of political Mithilanchal is off. While Darbhanga had been represented by stalwarts such as LN Mishra, Mithila has been the heart of Bihar politics for decades. That was some 25 years ago until Lalu Prasad’s social engineering arrived. No more so. Yet, the fight this time is as close and bitter as ever.
In the fight are redoubtable RJD candidate Abdul Bari Siddique and BJP’s Gopaljee Thakur — a first timer.
Despite the fight being a direct one, no one wants to call it that. Yet, most believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally on Thursday in which he recalled Mithila’s pride and history and told the rally “rest assured, your chowkidar is alert,” could turn the tide.
A newly laid 55-km stretch from Muzaffarpur along NH-57 shimmers in the sun. This perennially flood-wrecked region has undergone a sea change under CM Nitish Kumar.
Vinod Kumar, 23, is happy. “This NH makes us feel as if we are in Delhi’s NCR, isn’t it?” However, once you reach Darbhanga town the only scenes visible are that of encroachments, impassable roads, traffic woes, lack of infrastructure and tons of chaos. Bishnu Kumar Jha, 43, a part-time lecturer at a private college, said, “Election in Darbhanga sticks to the traditional ethos. The electorate was never loud but is secretive. They can’t be misled.”
On the town’s outskirts, three youths talk politics. “I have been to Gujarat, its better developed with good roads,” said Pankaj Kumar, 21. His friend Munna Kumar, 35, added, “Yaad karo Darbhanga me bhi kaisa halat tha road ka. Ab accha hai.”
That’s the plank Bihar CM Nitish Kumar wants to use. At a rally on Wednesday, he said, “My roads mirror development. The Centre has approved Rs 50,000 crore for road projects… Don’t I deserve votes?”
Despite being considered a saffron bastion, whose sitting BJP MP cricketer Kirti Azad recently quit to join the Congress, the contest is fierce. Om Prakash Pathak, 38, a villager, said, “Darbhanga is the seat of Shakti Puja and Goddess Kali. We don’t see who the candidate is. We see who is shaktishali (powerful). And it is Modi.”
Kaushal Yadav, 36, and Narendra Kumar Singh 29 — both vendors differ. “Modi might have done well but his candidate Gopaljee is a novice.” Shubham Kumar Jha, a student and first-timer voter, said, “RJD’s candidate is good and is well respected but the party he is associated with has no record of development.”
Siddique indeed enjoys a good reputation and the RJD’s strength among the Yadavs, EBC’s and minorities are what makes the fight tough. Mohammad Razak, who runs a puncture shop in Rambagh, said, “The minorities are no fools. They too need good roads, electricity and development.” Pressed, who he would vote for, he stayed mum.
The BJP candidate has circulated Siddique’s statement where he had said, “I have no problems saying Bharat Mata Ki Jai, but why Vande Mataram?” Tunna Kumar, 48, owner of a restaurant, said, “In Darbhanga, the contest has boiled down to who will chant Vande Matram and who won’t… Development has taken a back seat.”
However, Bipin Kumar believes, “In this Brahmin-dominated constituency, Kirti Azad had drawn 90% of Brahmin votes. For Gopaljee Thakur, the main issue is how to win them back. The majority of caste voters have always been deciders.”