An eatery stands where the Ganga bridge begins on the way to Mokama from Patna, a journey across a vast, low-lying taal. For those eating here as well as well as those serving them, the poll conversation is centred on “Dada” and his “benevolence”.
“Dada” is sitting MLA Anant Singh, who has won every election from Mokama since February 2005. Formerly with the JD(U) and now an independent candidate, he is contesting from jail in a battle among musclemen and Bhumihars.
“Dada has arranged the weddings of the daughters of many people,” said Mohan Singh as he snacked at the eatery. “He has helped so many in this constituency. He arranges for our medical treatment by the best doctors. He is the clear favourite.”
Anant Singh’s longtime rival Suraj Singh, another strongman and a former MP who is better known as Suraj Bhan, has got his brother Kanhaiya Singh fielded as the LJP candidate. Another contender is Lalan Singh, who used to be a close aide of Suraj Bhan. He was the original claimant to the ticket from the LJP which, however, preferred Suraj Bhan’s brother. Lalan went on to get his ticket from Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party.
A fourth Bhumihar in the fray is JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar. The party had got Anant Singh to quit after he was named an accused in a murder. “Lalu Prasad has tried to create a backward-forward divide by getting Anant Singh framed for Putus Yadav’s murder,” said a customer at the eatery.
Indeed, Lalu has made the murder a major issue and is believed to have impressed upon CM Nitish Kumar to take action against Anant Singh. Lalu keeps referring to the murder hoping this will rally Yadavs behind him.
With Anant Singh in jail, his wife Neelam Devi has been seeking votes. She has been telling the people that “Chhote Sarkar” — one of the alternative names locals use for “Dada” — is the victim of a “political conspiracy”. Neelam goes from door to door in the constituency, whose population is a mix of Bhumihars, Yadavs and EBC Dhankus.
Mokama has been a traditional stronghold for Anant Singh’s family. His elder brother Dilip Singh won the seat in 1990 and 1995 as a Janata Dal candidate. Suraj Bhan won in 2000, then Anant Singh wrested the seat and has held on since.
The JD(U)’s Neeraj Kumar, who enjoys a clean image, has been presenting himself as Nitish’s candidate and talking about development of the taal region, which grows just one crop, dal, because it is submerged for most part of the year. Neeraj, who is hoping to split the Bhumihar votes, is banking on Yadavs and Dhankus. “With Anant Singh in jail and Bhumihars divided among so many candidates of their caste, social consolidation and the development plank give us the edge,” said a JD(U) leader.
“Mokama has become a battle of prestige between Anant Singh and the Lalu-Nitish combine,” said Ramesh Kumar, a resident of Mokama town. “A victory for Anant Singh would imply that he is still supreme in his area even if he has no political affiliation.”
He said voters are caught in two minds between “faith in Nitish” and “fear of Lalu”. They are, however, not spelling out their views. “No one wants to be identified as a rebel in Chhote Sarkar’s domain,” he said.