Big iron gates at the house of incarcerated former RJD MP Mohammed Sahabuddin at Anand Nagar in Siwan opens and an SUV carrying his wife and RJD Siwan candidate Hena Sahab emerges. She is wearing a sari and her head is covered.
She is on her way to campaign in her second attempt to “regain” the lost fortress of her husband who represented the constituency from the nineties until his conviction in 2008 in a criminal case. Sahabuddin who was convicted in three more cases, is serving life term in Siwan jail.
On Sunday, he was transferred to Gaya jail to ensure “free and fair poll” with BJP alleging the former MP was “threatening” people from jail.
In 2009, Hena was given the RJD ticket at the last moment and hardly had time to campaign. She lost to Independent candidate Om Prakash Yadav, now the BJP candidate, by over 43,000 votes.
She has been interacting with voters with more confidence this time. Though RJD chief Lalu Prasad addressed some public meetings in Siwan, Hena has been largely campaigning on her own mostly door-to-door or by holding street corner meetings. She senses an RJD resurgence and hopes Siwan is regained.
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“I am a daughter of Siwan. Please never think of me as someone who comes from a big family. I am one of you. Place your trust in me and let the lantern (RJD symbol) glow this time,” she says in Ambedkar Nagar, a Dalit basti. Her chaste Bhojpuri helps he connect easily with the audience. A plastic chair is placed for her but she prefers to stand.
Hena belong to Purana Quila area of the town and hence calls herself a daughter of Siwan. She says: “Do not think I am bade ghar ki beti or Sahabuddin’s wife. I have no big powers but the desire to work for the constituency.”
“Vikas ki Ganga bahegi agar aaplog mujhe mauka denge (Development will flow if you give me a chance),” she said interacting with a Dalit woman. She asked them if they had any queries. None had any.
Amid “Lalu-Rabri zindabad, Dr Sahabuddin zindabad” slogans, Hena moves to Rajendra Nagar colony that has a mixed population of Hindu castes. She talks to elders in Bhojpuri. Youngsters and women follow her. She does not mention her rival Om Prakash Yadav, who joined the BJP just before the elections.
Hena’s next destination is Fatehpur bypass. She stops at the main road to instruct supporters about the programme. As she reaches Fatehpur, which has Hindu and Muslim population, enthusiastic supporters plan to weigh her in laddoos. The balance is decorated with the RJD’s green flag. She hesitatingly sits on one side of the balance. “Thik nahi lagta hai. Ise rahne dijiye (it is not proper to be seen getting weighed. Please do not click),” she tells camerapersons and then proceeds to answer media queries.
She does not respond to questions on allegations. She repeats she is daughter of Siwan. After short speeches, and sometimes just a smile, she moves ahead. Some wave at her. It is time to leave for Darauli, 32 km from Siwan town. She will return home by 11 am and wake up at 4.30 am to campaign.
BJP’s Yadav banks on M-Y split
Siwan MP Om Prakash Yadav does not seem too bothered about anti-incumbency getting the better of him and brushes away any challenge from a Muslim-Yadav (M-Y) vote consolidation for Lalu Prasad’s resurgent RJD in Bihar in the wake of an apparently weakened JD(U).
For Om Prakash, who won Siwan as an independent candidate in 2009 despite a Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) wave, the battle in Siwan is “Sahabuddin versus the rest”.
Om Prakash Yadav was a JD(U) candidate in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, which he lost to controversial RJD MP Mohammed Sahabuddin. Following the arrest and incarceration of Sahabuddin, his wife Hena Sahab was nominated RJD candidate in 2009. She is again the RJD candidate but Om Prakash, who claims to have ended “Sahabuddin Raj” (rule of Sahabuddin) in Siwan, is this time contesting as a BJP candidate.
“My last win ensured Sahabuddin factor got knocked out…this election will do away with bad memories of Sahabuddin as MP for 13 years,” said Om Prakash (52), a saffron towel wrapped around his neck and the BJP symbol lotus displayed on his chest like BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
He claims he was the first to challenge Sahabuddin. “I was the first to challenge Sahabuddin by successfully contesting against his nephew for Zila parishad election in 2002. I was beaten up by his supporters. When I regained consciousness, I vowed that my wife would not apply vermillion on her head till I became Siwan MP. My wife has resumed applying vermillion (sign of being married for Hindu women)”.
Invoking the first President of India, who was born in Siwan, Om Prakash says it is the land of Dr Rajendra Prasad and should remain so.
Demolishing RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s M-Y support, Om Prakash said, “Can you imagine that 40 Yadavs were killed during RJD rule? What kind of Yadav pride is he talking about? This election will make him realise how Yadavs have been rallying behind Narendra Modi”.
He added Modi connected with the masses by talking about development while his opponents were engaged “communal versus secular” debate.
Asked whether “anti-incumbency” would go against him because of is “inaccessibility”, he said that impression was the result of negative publicity. Holding up a booklet, he said he had spent Rs 19 crore for the constituency.
Yadav starts interacting with people early in the morning. He gets back home to prepare for the campaign. Supporters offer home-made ladoos to visitors. They are ready with facts for his reference like break-up of MPLAD fund spent, caste and community break-up of the constitueny and how many Yadavs were killed in Siwan during RJD rule.
He admits that the BJP is banking on the Modi factor and is enthusiastic about Modi’s scheduled campaign in Siwan on May 9.
Jitendra Singh, a supporter shows a piece of paper that shows Siwan has 3.65 lakh upper caste and 2.77 lakh Vaishya caste voters. Supporters say a good chunk of 1.31 lakh Yadavs who are with the BJP would weigh in favour of Yadav.
Om Prakash claims he has good friends among Muslims. He even has his own theory for getting support across caste and religious lines. He attributes it to his hopping parties, from Janata Party to Congress and JD(U) to BJP.