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Muslim vote at stake,Lalu keeps lonely vigil

Dressed in a vest and lungi,a swollen-eyed Lalu Prasad Yadav looks visibly exhausted. The RJD’s high-profile candidate from Saran...

Written by Santosh Singh | Chhapra |
April 17, 2009 8:44:14 am

Dressed in a vest and lungi,a swollen-eyed Lalu Prasad Yadav looks visibly exhausted. The RJD’s high-profile candidate from Saran is biding his time in his Chhapra home,with only two supporters to keep him company as polling gets underway. Today,he has no pithy sound bytes for mediapersons. “Why are you all loitering around here? Go to the field to put your finger on the people’s pulse,” he snaps at waiting reporters.

It is 7.30 am. Men and women have already started queuing up at polling booths in Chhapra town. Voters talk in whispers about which button to press.

Visheshwar Seminary School booth at the district town has witnessed a moderate turnout. Most people here say they have voted on the basis of development in the region,and it appears as if the balance is tilted in favour of Rajiv Pratap Rudy,the BJP candidate whose traditional vote base comprises urban businesspeople and upper castes.

BSP candidate Salim Pervez may affect Lalu’s prospects further. “Salim Pervez can make a serious dent into 1.25 lakh Muslim votes. I know some people here who would have voted for Salim,” says Dr Virendra Kumar Singh,a voter. He adds that caste equations will also play a key role. “I cast my vote for a sound reason,” says Singh cryptically.

Alok Kumar Verma,another voter,says that Nitish Kumar won the confidence of the people. He claims that,overall,it is more about the lotus (BJP symbol) than the lantern (RJD symbol) in urban areas.

But a visit to Rauja village – with a dominant Muslim and Yadav population — reveals a different trend. Here,most people say they are rooting for Lalu. “Yahan to bas lalten bhakabhak jal raha hai (The lantern is burning brightly here),” says Parmeshwar Prasad.

As he says this,he points at a crowd of voters,including a good number of women,at one of three village booths. “Nitish Kumar has surely given us roads,but voting is about upholding caste pride,” observes Prasad.

Gautam Yadav says: “After RJD,it is BSP here,with the lotus at third place. Muslim votes are divided by Lalu and Salim”. He adds it is Lalu who is holding aloft Yadav flag in Bihar.

Along Chhapra-Amnaur Road,it is about Lalu,Rudy and Salim. Villagers discuss that it could be tight for Lalu this time. After all,he had won only by 65,000 votes in 2004 — when there was an RJD wave and no BSP factor.

There is no decisive trend in Dayalpura village under Maduarha. All three parties have votes. A villager from Madhopur says the BSP is also getting some scheduled caste votes as well. “If Salim gets even 80,000 votes,Lalu is gone. After all,the BJP is not getting Muslim votes anyway. It is Lalu who will suffer.”

Meanwhile,Rajiv Pratap Rudy leaves for Chhapra from hometown Amnaur. He looks relaxed,telling reporters he stands a fair chance of winning. He privately agrees that that the BSP factor can hurt Lalu.

Back in Chhapra,Lalu remains cloistered in his home. Armed with cameras,mediapersons wait hopefully for Lalu to reappear on his balcony so they can capture his mood. Word gets out that Lalu will only emerge after polling is winds up for the day.

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