In 2009, the BJP-JD(U) alliance had swept all seven seats that will go to polls in Bihar Wednesday, including Madhubani. Five years down, the contest in this seat is mainly between the BJP’s sitting MP Hukumdev Narayan Yadav and the RJD’s Abdul Bari Siddiqui.
While the BJP claims the Modi factor has won over the Yadavs — an RJD votebank — the JD(U) appears to have lost its Muslim support to the RJD.
Madhubani district BJP leader Bharat Bhushan Yadav claims there are “silent Narendra Modi voters” among Yadavs. Mass mobilisation efforts by the party haev been able to convince Yadav voters, mostly in the age group 18 to 40, of the need for change at the Centre, he claims. The BJP has been telling Yadavs they should not waste their vote on Lalu and his RJD, who will “not play any role” in the next government at the Centre.
Vice-chairman of the Madhubani zila panchayat district board Bharat Bhushan says Modi has been able to “connect” across caste lines because of his EBC identity. “A sizeable section of the Yadav voters believe that just as Lalu had given them a sense of empowerment in Bihar, Modi can do the same for OBCs and Dalits at the national level,” he says.
Some Yadavs concede a “shift” towards Modi. Brajnandan Yadav, who had come to listen to BJP leader Sushma Swaraj at Benipatti, says: “It is true that some young voters are in two minds. While there is pressure from elders to go with Lalu, the young voters want a change of government at the Centre.”
Another Yadav voter, Chandan, a student and a first-time voter, says he wants Modi at the Centre. “This is not an assembly election. We can return to Lalu,” he argues.
The Brahmin voters, meanwhile, are solidly behind the BJP. “Last time, several of us had voted for the Congress’s Shakil Ahmed. But this time, it has to be Modi. The problem is whether to look at the top (Centre) or at the constituency. Modi coming here to campaign has more or less consolidated Brahmin votes,” says Hridaynath Jha, a Madhubani resident.
The BJP is thus resting its hopes on the upper castes and OBC Vaishya-dominated segments of Madhubani, Benipatti and Harlakhi. Vaishya and Brahmins make up 15 and 35 per cent of the population in the constituency respectively.
While the JD(U) fielded Ghulam Gous hoping to split the 15 per cent Muslim vote in the seat, there are clear signs of the community consolidating behind the RJD. The three segments of Bisfi, Keoti and Jale, which have a substantial Muslim population, give an edge to RJD candidate Abdul Bari Siddiqui. Incidentally, Siddiqui had lost to Hukumdev Yadav by just over 9,000 votes last time.
Despite the favourable caste combination, anti-incumbency against Hukumdev Yadav is a worry for the BJP. “Every weak BJP candidate wants to hide behind Modi. The RJD’s Siddiqui has the image of a liberal Muslim and has a strong reach among Brahmins as well. Even upper caste Bhumihars had voted in big numbers for him in the last election,” concedes a BJP leader.
Mohan Jha, a senior journalist in Madhubani, believes the odds are heavily against Hukumdev Yadav. While he concedes that Siddiqui’s fate rests on how many votes the JD(U)’s Gous gets among Muslims and the non-Yadav OBCs, EBCs and Dalits, he adds: “There is no clear winner here but I would still give a slight edge to Siddiqui because of his immense popularity and strong M-Y consolidation. If Hukumnarayan Yadav wins, one would have to believe that Modi factor worked.”