Across the pontoon bridge in Danapur lies a vast stretch of diara (riverine belt) along the Ganga. Home to nearly 70,000 voters, most of them OBC Yadavs, the diara, part of the Pataliputra Lok Sabha seat, has small farmers who grow about two crops a year. Some people in the area have been allotted homes under the Indira Awaas Yojana and most homes have electricity. But their biggest worry remains soil erosion, the fear that they will eventually lose their fields and homes to the Ganga.
Most of Danapur residents have been committed RJD supporters for years, but are now upset with both RJD candidate Misa Bharti (Rajya Sabha MP and daughter of RJD chief Lalu Prasad), and BJP candidate and sitting MP Ram Kripal Yadav for failing to check the periodic floods.
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Shiv Vachan Rai, a resident of Purani Panapur diara, says, “Balubandi (ban on the sale of sand) has hit us. After the Nitish Kumar government introduced new contract rules, Yadav youths who were in the business of selling sand lost their jobs. Earlier, demonetisation had affected all of us… Ram Kripal is a grassroots leader but he hardly enjoys any clout in the BJP.”
Pataliputra is set to witness an absorbing contest between Ram Kripal, once a trusted lieutenant of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, and Lalu’s daughter Bharti. Lalu Prasad had lost the seat in 2009 to his once aide and JD(U) candidate Ranjan Prasad Yadav, and in 2014, Bharti lost to Ram Kripal who had switched over to the BJP prior to the 2014 polls after being denied a ticket by the RJD. This time, with the JD(U) in the NDA fold, Ram Kripal hopes to gain the ally’s votes and increase his tally, but unlike in 2014, he has no Narendra Modi wave to bank on.
Yadav Rai, another diara resident, says, “This is Lalu Prasad’s stronghold. All those supporters (of the BJP) here… will evaporate as soon as Ram Kripal leaves the area.”
Lal Bahadur Rai, a litti and tea seller at Purani Panapur diara for the last 15 years, says no politician has addressed the problem of soil erosion. “Asha Sinha, the BJP MLA from the area, seldom visits us. Though CM Nitish Kumar has given us electricity, some of the houses allotted under the Indira Awaas Yojana were washed away during the floods. We also need a bridge over the Ganga. That will shorten the distance between Patna and Chhapra and make it easier for us to reach the capital,” says Rai.
Down the pontoon bridge, at some distance through the kachcha roads, a few youth and middle-aged people have gathered at a tea shop. Deepak Kumar, a farmer, says, “There is no Narendra Modi wave this time. Many of us voted for the BJP last time hoping our lives would change for the better. But we do not remember Ram Kripal visiting us after becoming a minister. Misa has promised to do something to stop soil erosion, but we are disillusioned.”
Deepak, called “masterji” for his eloquence, says, “Tejashwi has been picking up fast as a leader but is no match for his father.”
As the residents continue chatting, there is some activity near the bridge. People on horses lead Ram Kripal, who is visiting the diara, amidst slogans.
After he leaves, resident Mukesh Rai says, “Ram Kripal may get some Yadav votes here because of his old connection with the RJD but he will largely bank on upper-caste votes.”