Jamui sitting MP Chirag Paswan had the easier option of stepping into the shoes of his father, Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan, by contesting from Hajipur after senior Paswan said no to electoral politics. But, Chirag says, he didn’t leave his 2014 seat. “Jamui is like my mother. I want to do more for Jamui and give the same recognition my father gave to Hajipur,” says Chirag, rolling off his “achievements” in the last five years — a medical college, an engineering college, a divisional office of the Food Corporation of India, a passport kendra, and railway projects worth Rs 2,800 crore.
The 35-year-old is also considered an MP with close links to his constituency, visiting Jamui almost every weekend.
On a hot day as a crowd cheers Chirag, Paswan says, “Five years ago, you knew Chirag as my son, a film hero, but now I am happy and proud that you know him as a good MP. Every father wants his son to do better than him. I also want him to break my Hajipur victory record (winning by over 5 lakh votes).”
In the reserved constituency of Jamui, Chirag’s main rival is the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party’s (RLSP) Bhudev Choudhary, a Pasi. Sources said while RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha realises Choudhary is not very popular for ignoring the seat during his 2009 to 2014 tenure as MP, he is counting on the caste factor to see Choudhary through.
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“We know that our Mahagathbandhan is starting with an advantage of 3.5 lakh Yadav and about 1.75 lakh Muslim votes. Now, it is all up to splitting the non-Yadav OBCs, mainly Kushwaha (1.5 lakh), and EBCs, Bind and Chauhan (70,000), and Manjhi (about 1 lakh) votes,” said an RLSP leader. The RLSP joined the Mahagathbandhan in December, and is contesting five seats.
But things are not that simple.
In the Jamui Assembly segments of Tarapur, Jamui, Sikandra, Shekhpura, Chakai and Jhajha, while the Congress’s minimum income guarantee scheme is making little buzz, and there is almost overwhelming support for PM Narendra Modi, there are also signs of a split in the JD(U)’s Kushwaha and EBC base.
Barun Kumar from Maheshkhoot village of Tarapur said: “In the 2014 polls, 10 out of 10 Kushwahas voted for the NDA (when the RLSP was with the NDA). But this time, there could be a 50 per cent split in the Mahagathbandhan’s favour… In urban areas, it is all Chirag, but in rural areas, it is down to caste. There is no Modi wave now.” He added that while the NDA government has support for acting against Pakistan after Pulwama, it might not necessarily convert into votes for Chirag.
Saying “Upendra Kushwaha has been our leader, we will have to listen to his call”, Rajesh Kumar from Launa-Khudia village of Tarapur said that visiting Jamui regularly like Chirag did was not enough. “His personal assistant would not pass on our messages to him.”
Likewise, there are signs of a split among EBC votes, considered unpredictable. “Hum upar mein Modi dekhte hain par neeche bahut kuchch dekhte hain, sochte hain aur tab vote dete hain (We see Narendra Modi at the top but we consider several factors before deciding whom to vote for),” said Ashok Chandravanshi of a village in Jamui.
An NDA leader admitted concern over “signs of a split” in the JD(U) EBC vote base. “Chirag won in a three-way fight last time (between him, JD(U) candidate Uday Narayan Choudhary and RJD candidate Sudhanshu Shekhar). We are a little worried with JD(U) votes not coming to us lock, stock and barrel.”
Another bad news for Chirag is the lack of support from local Rajput leader and former agriculture minister Narendra Singh. Singh’s two sons, Ajay Pratap (former Jamui MLA) and Sumit Singh (former Chakai MLA), are reportedly not supporting Chirag. In the 2015 Assembly elections, Pratap, fighting on a BJP ticket, had lost after the LJP put up a dummy candidate. Though both brothers have been sharing the dais with Chirag, their supporters have been reportedly trying to convince Rajputs, otherwise taken as BJP supporters, not to vote for him.
Singh’s family, that has dominated Jamui politics for long, is also wary about Chirag garnering credit for all the good work done in the constituency. While saying they were standing behind Chirag, Ajay Pratap said: “Jamui was not made in a day. It is because of the cumulative efforts of several leaders, right from my grandfather Srikrishna Singh (former minister), my father Narendra Singh, my brother and I.”