On August 11, they hugged as you would expect a bada bhai and a chhota bhai meeting after 20 years to do. On August 21, the brothers, pushed into each other’s arms by their common enemy BJP, will face the first test of their renewed “secular and socialist” alliance.
The byelections for 10 assembly seats in Bihar — coming 15 months before elections for a new House are due — have little significance in the state, but will be watched for the reaction of voters to Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar’s spectacular political volte face.
The BJP would like to believe the people would reject the “rank opportunism” of the two former chief ministers. It would also be hoping that the “Narendra Modi magic” that swept the party, along with its allies LJP and RLSP, to 31 seats in the Lok Sabha elections, has not waned yet. The BJP has been asking voters for the “pyjama” of power in Patna so that a set of clothes is completed with the “kurta” that it already has in Delhi. Along with Lok Janshakti Party president Ramvilas Paswan and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party chief Upendra Kushwaha, the party aims to build a rainbow coalition of upper castes, Vaishya OBCs, EBCs, Paswan Scheduled Castes, and splinter Kushwaha and Yadav voters against the RJD-JD(U)-Congress.
Of the 10 seats going to polls, the BJP had six, RJD three and JD(U) one. While a seat-wise analysis makes it difficult to predict a clear winner this time, Chhapra, Hajipur and Bhagalpur are the most keenly watched battles.
Chhapra, part of Saran Lok Sabha seat at which the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy defeated the RJD’s Rabri Devi, is a grudge battle for Lalu, who had defeated Rudy in Saran in 2009. Here, the RJD’s Randhir Singh — son of four-time Maharajganj MP Prabhunath Singh — will take on the BJP’s Kanhaiya Singh in a Rajput versus Rajput fight, which will be decided by Yadav and Vaishya voters. The BJP’s Janardan Singh Sigriwal, who defeated Prabhunath Singh to win the Maharajganj Lok Sabha seat, had won the Chhapra assembly seat in 2010. Also in the mix is BJP rebel and Independent candidate Dr C N Gupta, a popular figure locally.
Hajipur is one of the assembly segments of the Hajipur Lok Sabha seat represented by Paswan. The LJP chief defeated his old rival, JD(U)’s Ram Sunder Das, the man he had lost to in 2009. For the assembly battle, the JD(U) has fielded Rajendra Rai, an MLC from the Yadav community, whom the party expects to be able to do well in a constituency with sizeable Yadav OBC, upper caste Bhumihar, EBC and Mahadalit votes. Interestingly, the BJP has fielded Awadgesh Singh, a Patel, whose community is generally seen as a votebank of Nitish Kumar.
The BJP has a point to prove at the Bhagalpur assembly seat. In the Lok Sabha election, the party’s senior leader and twice MP from the seat, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, was edged out by the RJD’s little known nominee Shailesh Kumar alias Bulo Mandal. For the August 21 election, the party has fielded Nabhay Choudhary, who faces the Congress’s Ajit Sharma.
At Mohiuddinagar, which was won by the BJP’s Rana Gangeshwar Singh in 2010, the RJD has fielded former MLA Ajay Kumar Bulganin. Mohiuddinagar was a traditional RJD seat until Gangeshwar, who is now a JD(U) MLC, won it for the BJP four years ago. Caste equations at the seat make it an evenly matched contest between Bulganin and the BJP’s Rajesh Kumar Singh.
Mohania was won the last time by the JD(U)’s Chhedi Paswan, who defeated former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar in the Lok Sabha elections. The JD(U) has given the ticket to Chhedi Paswan’s nephew Shekhar Paswan, while the BJP candidate is RJD rebel Niranjan Paswan, who had narrowly lost to Chhedi in the last assembly polls.
This is the only seat the LJP is contesting, and it is upbeat about its candidate Suheli Mehta, a teacher at Patna’s Magadh Mahila College. Mehta faces the JD(U)’s R N Singh, a former minister and MLA. The result at the seat will show if upper caste Bhumihars can vote with Yadavs in favour of the JD(U).
Jale, Narkatiyaganj, Banka and Rajnagar are all expected to see evenly balanced contests because of the local social arithmetic at the seats.