It’s an unusual situation for Rajendra Singh. An RSS worker for the past 37 years, he is this time contesting on an LJP ticket — the biggest among the eight BJP leaders doing so. The 54-year-old crossed over after the Dinara constituency went to the JD(U)’s sitting MLA and Science and Technology Minister Jay Kumar Singh in the NDA seat-sharing.
Considered the man behind the BJP’s victory in Jharkhand in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Rajendra Singh was even touted as the party’s chief ministerial face for Bihar in the 2015 elections. While that hope had ended as he lost the polls from Dinara, he had still got over 62,000 votes. Made the BJP state vice-president, he had been nursing the constituency for the last five years and built a base in the Rohtas belt.
However, in the wake of the LJP’s last-minute decision to leave the NDA in Bihar, and its fulsome praise for the BJP since, the lines are blurred. One of the recent posts on Singh’s Facebook was an advice by a supporter: “Lojapa Bhajpa ekke huawe, jhansa mein na aaiyah, abki Rajendra Bhaiya ke jitaiyah (LJP and BJP are the same, don’t get confused about it. This time, ensure victory of Rajendra Singh).”
Singh’s campaign message is a variation of the BJP’s poll line in the Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal last year, where its silent surge had taken the ruling Trinamool Congress by surprise — “Chup chaap bungla chhaap (quietly, vote for the hut, the LJP symbol)”, Singh’s pitch goes.
A saffron scarf resting on his shoulder in his campaign photographs, Singh says BJP and RSS workers are supporting him “on their own”. “It is because of our long association… It is very difficult to shed the party you have grown up with.”
The 54-year-old, who has not spoken publicly about the BJP’s denial of a ticket to him, says top BJP leaders, including reportedly Amit Shah, called him to change his mind. While it has expelled Singh along with eight other rebels, senior BJP leaders have refrained from attacking him personally.
Belonging to Gaura village in Rohtas, and an LLB from Allahabad University, Singh was known to be a quiet, largely backroom leader of the RSS till he was made the organisation sectretary of the Jharkhand BJP. He has since come to be known as Amit Shah’s man.
Learning a lesson from the 2015 loss, when not many knew him in Dinara, Singh is this time going door to door, “irrespective of caste”. He refrains from attacking the JD(U)’s Jay Kumar Singh, while praising LJP leaders Chirag Paswan and the late Ram Vilas Paswan.
Given his commendable performance in 2015 against the caste might of the Mahagathbandhan in Dinara (at that time, it meant the RJD, Congress and JD-U), plus his work in the area since, Singh is seen as having a good chance against Jay Kumar.
While the Rajput votes might get split between the two, Singh is expected to get the substantial non-Yadav OBC, EBC (Extremely Backward Class) and Scheduled Caste including Paswan vote. One such village with a large number of the latter is Khairihi. If its cemented roads stand out, so do the open drains that criss-cross them. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s much-touted Saat Nischay (Seven Resolutions) include ‘Gali Nali (drains in lanes)’ and ‘Nal Jal (water in taps)’.
On paper, about 70% work on Gali Nali is done in Khairihi. However, as four-wheelers struggle to negotiate the drains, Neeraj Shah calls Saat Nischay worthless. “Where is the water in the taps? Water tanks are not ready. This scheme is a den of corruption.”
Shah is unemployed, like many youth in Khairihi. Most villagers are either share-croppers or migrant workers. Some 130 people returned during the lockdown but none stayed back to cast their vote.
Says Narendra Pathak, “Why should we vote for Jay Kumar, who barely visits us? Only last month, 80 villagers went back to work in Gujarat… Rajendra Singh is the one who shares our joys and sorrows. He also facilitated treatment of those infected with Covid.”
Akshay Lal Paswan, a milkman, who lists local issues like the closed rice mills, says, “70% of the villagers support Rajendra Singh because of his accessibility.” Besides, he adds, fondness for the late Paswan remains.
Yes, they saw electricity, roads under Nitish, admits Amita Bachchan, but adds, “How many years should we give to Nitish Kumar to generate employment, improve the quality of education and address the corruption in PDS? Even under mid-day meals, a child gets 4 kg rice in place of 8 kg.”
His father had high hopes of him, naming him ‘Amitabh Bachchan’ after the mega star. However, at school they registered him wrongly as ‘Amita’, and now fate has left him without a job despite graduation, he says.
This is why RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s promise of 10 lakh jobs is so attractive, apart from loan waivers of farmers, villagers say, though there is apprehension about the Yadavs coming to dominate like under Lalu Prasad.
At the village school in Kund, where some teachers are busy supervising drawing of circles at three poll booths to ensure social distancing on voting day, there is much enthusiasm for Tejashwi’s promise of pay parity for over 4.5 lakh “Niyojit (contract)” teachers.
Says a teacher, who refused to be named, “Nitish said in the Assembly that we cannot be given equal pay for equal work. We tell him standing on this school premises that we won’t vote for him… We were on strike for three months, but Nitish did not even meet our delegation once. He will pay for his arrogance.”
The RJD Dinara candidate, Vijay Kumar Mandal, an old party worker known in the area, is banking on Yadav villages like Pipra.
Sporting a scarf with photos of the RJD election symbol of a lantern and Tejashwi, Rakesh Singh Yadav, a student, says, “Is baar lagta hai Tejashwi mukhyamantri ban hi jayega (It seems Tejashwi will become CM this time).”
JD(U) candidate Jay Kumar’s best hope is areas with Rajputs, OBC Kushwahas and some EBC belts. The Science and Technology Minister in the Nitish Cabinet, he reminds voters, “Recall what Bihar had 15 years ago. There were no roads, no electricity. Nitish Kumar brought the change.” He makes no mention of Rajendra Singh.
Sundaram Kumar, associated with the BJP’s farmer cell in Rohtas, says there is no contradiction in them supporting Singh against ally JD(U). “Our ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya once said if the party does not field a good candidate, it is the job of workers to rectify it. We are doing precisely that.”
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