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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Tarapur bypoll: With Lalu boost and a caste bet, RJD hopes to upset JD(U)

Principal opposition party RJD, sniffing an opportunity, has also intensified its campaigning with Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav making sure senior party leaders pitch in.

Written by Santosh Singh | Tarapur |
Updated: October 28, 2021 10:57:49 am
tarapur bypolls biharRJD chief Lalu Prasad with party leader Tejashwi Yadav at a public meeting in Tarapur town on Wednesday. Express Photo by Sanjay Das)

OF THE two assembly constituencies in Bihar, where bypolls are scheduled to be held on October 30, Tarapur in Munger district appears to be giving some nervous moments to the ruling JD(U) and its NDA allies.

Over the past fortnight, top JD(U) leaders, right from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Tarkishore Prasad to state ministers, have either held public meetings or have been camping here, joining an intense campaign to retain the seat it won in the 2020 elections. Ally BJP’s senior leaders, including Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi and state minister Shahnawaz Hussain, also visited the constituency to boost the JD(U)’s prospects.

Principal opposition party RJD, sniffing an opportunity, has also intensified its campaigning with Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Prasad Yadav making sure senior party leaders pitch in. In fact, on the last day of campaigning on Wednesday, RJD’s biggest crowd-puller, party chief Lalu Prasad, addressed an election meeting in Tarapur – his first such address since the 2015 polls.

“I am here to ensure the immersion of Nitish Kumar government. It was Tejashwi who started the process, it is my job to complete it,” Lalu said, as he targeted the Chief Minister for not doing enough to generate employment. He also targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of failing on all fronts.

This was two days after Nitish, at a public meeting in Tarapur, specifically targeted the RJD and Lalu’s tenure as chief minister: “What had they done during their 15-year rule?”

Although development and jobs remain the primary issues in campaigning, the RJD is pinning its hopes on caste calculations to upset the JD(U).

While the JD(U) has stuck to a candidate from the Kushwaha community, which has sent winners from the seat since 1980, the RJD has taken a calculated risk in fielding a candidate from another OBC community, Vaishya.

The RJD strategy appears to be revolving around efforts to split votes of the Vaishya community, which has traditionally been BJP supporters, while consolidating its traditional Yadav vote bank.

Yadavs form the dominant caste in the constituency with more than 50,000 voters, followed by 45,000 Kushwaha voters and 30,000 Vaishya voters. The constituency also has more than 20,000 Muslims and 30,000 people from upper castes and 10,000 from Paswans.

With several ifs and buts playing on minds, considering the close numbers between the Yadavs and Kushwahas, the fight is expected to be tight, and vote consolidation is likely to play a deciding role. In the 2020 elections, the RJD had fielded a Yadav candidate who lost by only 7,000 votes.

“This time, the result would be decided on how much upper caste and Vaishya votes split away from the NDA. Asarganj’s Vaishya community looks sharply divided with the RJD fielding Vaishya candidate Arun Kumar Sah. It looks touch and go. That is why the NDA has been using all its resources in its bid to retain the seat,” said Krishna Kumar Das, a retired government employee from Dhouni.

“The NDA always took our support but never fielded a Vaishya candidate. The RJD has valued us and hence, we will support Sah,” said Ramesh Sah, a businessman in Asarganj.

However, Deen Dayal Keshri of Tarapur, said, “Some segments of Vaishyas may be divided over their choice of candidates. Our pick could still be the NDA for all the good development work it has done in the past 16 years.”

JD(U) candidate Rajiv Kumar Singh, a science graduate who had earlier contested unsuccessfully thrice from Tarapur, is considered a prominent leader of his Kushwaha community, almost matching up to Shakuni Choudhary, who won the seat several times since 1980 for various parties – the last time in 2005 for the RJD.

The JD(U) won the seat thrice – Neeta Choudhary winning the first time in 2010, followed by her husband Mewalal Choudhary, former V-C of Bihar Agriculture University, who won in 2015 and 2020. The seat fell vacant following the death of Mewalal, leading to the bypoll here.

RJD candidate Arun Kumar Sah, who is from Asarganj, is considered an influential Vaishya leader.

Incidentally, both the LJP (Ram Vilas) and Congress have picked upper caste candidates. While the party of Chirag Paswan, the MP from Jamui, under which Tarapur falls, has fielded Chandan Singh, a Rajput, the Congress has picked Rajesh Mishra, a Brahmin.

The bypolls in Tarapur as well as Kusheshwar Sthan in Darbhanga, both of which were won by the JD(U) in 2020, are also crucial for the state government. Although the NDA enjoys the simple majority of 126 MLAs in the 243-member Assembly, victory in the two seats may help the RJD-led opposition pose a threat to the Nitish government.

The RJD, Congress, CPI-ML and CPI have a combined strength of 110 MLAs. If the RJD wins the two bypolls, it can reopen its communication channels with NDA constituent Vikasshil Insaan Party of Mukesh Sahani and Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) of Jitan Ram Manjhi and can also get support of AIMIM’s five legislators.

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