From the EC120 Eurocopter, Sharad Yadav pointed to the Kosi and a bridge across it. “I had it built,” he said, with the authority of someone who has won four times from Madhepura since 1991.
Later, he spoke of the 3.59 km bridge connecting Baluha Ghat and Gandual and inaugurated last December, at Amarpura in Kehra block. “Give me your vote based on what we have done,” he said, “we” being he and the government led by the Janata Dal (United). But when he asked them if they would, some merely crossed their arms and smiled sheepishly.
A lot is at stake for Yadav and his party. With the JD(U) expected to take heavy losses these elections, there is an urgency to protect the home bases of Nalanda (Nitish Kumar’s) and Madhepura. Nitish embodied this desperation when he camped in Madhepura from April 18 to 28, campaigning for party president Yadav.
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Nitish’s vikas pitch has slowed down. “He thought dealing with day-to-day affairs was below him. Dealing with big projects works if there are MLAs doing the groundwork. We had only three MLas in the six assembly constituencies here; one (Renu Kushwaha) has left now,” said a JD(U) leader.
Yadav, who built his political career riding the mass appeal of others, has only the Mahadalit votebank created by Nitish to fall back on. “He always won by eating a little into the Muslim-Yadav votebank of the RJD and then getting our votes. That’s how he defeated Lalu Prasad in 1999. Where will he get that now?” said a former BJP MLA.
The BJP, which has fielded Vijay Kumar Singh, has fought hard to protect its votebanks and attract youngsters, making Madhepura a triangular contest. “During ticket distribution, we were relieved that there was no BJP organisation in Madhepura. Now I see see many willing to support them,” admitted the JD(U) leader.
Yadav has been pushed to do things he would not have done otherwise, like going to the house of Anand Mohan, a murder convict and Rajput strongman, to seek his mother’s blessings. “Anand Mohan is a goonda. His brother Madan Singh works for our party; that’s why I went there,” said Yadav.
The RJD candidate is Rajesh Ranjan, better known as Pappu Yadav. He was convicted of a murder in 2008 before being acquitted last year by the Patna High Court. He faces an appeal in the Supreme Court, and 24 more cases, including one of murder. “Lalu has given the lantern to a bulldozer and asked it to come after me,” said Sharad Yadav at Amarpura. “I have been noticing an anti-Pappu wave in the last two days. People, like the Vaishyas, who remember the violence unleashed by his people, will hopefully come over to us.”
The Muslims and Yadavs have lined up once again behind Pappu. He stood deferentially before the crowd at Gordor village’s madrasa, sampling from the many plates before him. “You have kept so much food; it’s hard not to eat it all,” he said. As his open jeep made the last campaign trip through predominantly Muslim areas of Saharsa on April 28 evening, a trip a supporter described as “one hour, 5,000 votes”, Pappu said, “M-Y might work for Lalu, but I am a servant of all people here.”
Pappu was not well and sipped a chilled ORS. In between, he signalled that if elected, violence might resume. In the past his gangs fought the Rajputs, but now, “The Nitish government has have placed Mahadalit dalals in each government office. Their people are in control. I want to end that.”