It wasn’t a mean achievement when the NDA won 12 of the 23 seats in the last Assembly elections in the Seemanchal districts of Kishanganj,Araria,Purnea and Katihar which have a substantial Muslim population with the BJP taking nine of them. While the RJD-Lok Janashakti Party and Congress could pose a challenge this time,the support for Nitish Kumar may offset some of the losses expected for the BJP.
The result may be a break-up not far different from last time with only a last-moment polarisation of Muslim votes giving a gain of one or two seats to the RJD-LJP and Congress.
Some of the problems the NDA is facing are internal. The BJP that had won all six Araria seats in the last Assembly elections faces internal rebellion after having denied tickets to two sitting MLAs. The LJP,that wrested Araria seat from the BJP in the September 2009 Assembly bypoll,is well placed at Sikti and its partner RJD at Narpatganj,where the BJP denied ticket to sitting MLA Janardhan Yadav.
Though Janardhan Yadav agreed not to contest,his supporters have turned their back on the BJP.
The Congress too has put its full force behind making dents in this region,with both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi holding rallies here.
If the BJP is struggling in Araria,the NDA can expect to gain in minority-concentrated Kishanganj,where the JD(U) had won only one seat,Thakurganj,last time. The Congress and RJD had won Bahadurganj and Kishanganj Assembly constituencies,respectively. This time,former Kishanganj MP and prominent Muslim face of the region Mohammed Taslimuddin is in the JD(U) fold,and that is expected to make a crucial difference in a triangular contest between Congresss Javed Azad,RJDs Tasiruddin and BJPs Sweety Singh. While the Congress candidate has made a strong impression,a division of Muslim votes will only help the BJP sneak through.
In Kochadhaman,also a minority-dominated seat,the RJDs Akhatarul Imam seems ahead in the race with the JD(U). The sitting Kishanganj MLA,he switched this time to the newly-carved out Kochadhaman seat. However,locals again dont rule out some of the Muslim vote going to the JD(U),both on account of Nitishs development agenda and the Taslimuddin factor.
In Thakurganj,though,the JD(U) faces a tough battle,with the RJDs Naushad Alam and BJP rebel Independent Awadh Bihari having made the going tough for its nominee Gopal Agrawal.
In the fourth Assembly constituency in Kishanganj,Bahadurganj,the Congress faces stiff resistance from the JD(U).
In Purnea,the contest will be close much as last time. BJP MLA Rajkishore Keshri,who had wrested the seat from the CPM,is only slightly ahead of Congresss Ramcharitra Yadav and CPMs Amit Sarkar (the son of slain leader Ajit Sarkar). According to Akhilesh Singh,a Purnea resident,the Congress nominee has suffered for being seen as a Pappu Yadav man,while Sarkar,who has just entered politics after leaving a lucrative job in Australia,is yet to make an impression.
The NDA is also likely to win Rupauli,a gain from last time,with Nitish winning over the sitting RJD MLA Bima Bharti and giving her a ticket.