With Patna Saheb’s rebel BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha set to join the Congress, his star power could be put to real test in Patna Saheb, from where he is likely to contest as a Congress nominee opposite Union minister Ravi Shanker Prasad. The urban seat, which Sinha has represented since 2009, is said to be among the safest for the BJP, like Kishanganj is for the Congress and Nalanda for the JD(U).
But now, as Congress candidate, Sinha, who would often talk about being “one of founder-members of the BJP”, will be up against his own impressive past shows. “This election will show how much personal clout he enjoys as a film star and two-time MP. Sinha will now get to know his real strength, minus the support of the strong BJP cadre. Although the RJD and Congress will rally around him, the BJP has not lost the constituency post delimitation in 2009, when Patna Saheb was split into Patna Saheb and Pataliputra Lok Sabha segments,” said a BJP leader.
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As BJP candidate, Sinha won the 2014 Lok Sabha polls with 55.04 per cent (4,85,905) votes as against his nearest RJD rival Vijay Yadav’s 24.93 per cent (2,20,100) votes. In 2009, too, Sinha had won with 57.30 per cent (3,16,549) votes against the RJD. The Congress, which had fielded TV personality Shekhar Suman, could get only 11.10 per cent (61,308) votes.
Sources in the party, however, admit it won’t be a cakewalk for BJP’s Prasad, who, despite his high-profile as Union minister and being a constant presence in the media, is fighting his debut elections.
“Prasad does have a good image, but he doesn’t comes across as a mass leader. Neither Shatrughan Sinha nor Ravi Shanker Prasad has done any outstanding work for Patna Saheb,” says Pandey Abhishek, president of the Kayastha Chitragupta Sena, one of the associations of Kayasthas, the community to which both Sinha and Prasad belong.
The upper-caste Kayasthas, along with the OBC Banias, Muslims and Yadavs, are an influential vote bank in Patna Saheb, which has over 23 lakh voters. The Lok Sabha constituency of Patna Saheb has six Assembly segments, of which the BJP had won five and the RJD one in the 2015 Assembly elections.
In the 2009 delimitation exercise the original Patna Lok Sabha seat was bifurcated into two — while the urban seat was called Patna Saheb, named so after the birthplace of the Sikh religious leader Guru Gobind Singh, the semi-urban and rural areas of Patna now form the Pataliputra Lok Sabha seat.
BJP candidate Prasad, who arrived in Patna on March 26, exuded confidence about his victory. He, however, did not mention his likely rival Sinha.
The Congress, however, believes it would not get a better candidate than Shatrughan Sinha for Patna Saheb. “He has consistently raised anti-Narendra Modi issues and has a huge following. Ravi Shanker Prasad has found a match in Shatrughan Sinha. The BJP must not get complacent because Sinha will be the Grand Alliance candidate unlike in the last two polls where there was a three-way fight,” says a senior Congress leader.