Even as more than half of the election fest is over, Bihar is still keeping its cards close to its chest. The battle is fierce in the state capital of Patna, and its most urban seat, Patna Sahib. The seat is named after Patna Saheb Gurdwara but it is the Hindu Kayastha community, with over 7.5 lakh population, that rules the roost here. Patna Sahib will go to polls in the last phase of Lok Sabha elections on May 19 with two Kayastha candidates of rival parties in the fray.
One is a famous actor, two-time MP, a proud Bihari Babu and a Kayastha. On the other side is also another Kayastha, a well-known advocate and Union IT and Law Minister. BJP rebel and newly inducted Congressman Shatrughan Sinha is eyeing the seat for the third time in a row, while Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP is making a debut in electoral politics. Despite the fact that Patna Sahib has been the BJP’s pet seat and Kayasthas are loyal BJP voters, things do not look as easy as it used to be for Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP this time around.
Sinha is making his “sidelining” in the BJP a matter of Kayastha community’s pride, which, he insists, forced him to cross over to the Congress. “The entire Kayastha community believes that Shatrughan Sinha is their global representative, and if he loses the Lok Sabha elections, the community will have one less representative in Parliament. Since Prasad is already there in the Upper House with almost five years of his term left, Sinha must be re-elected from Patna Saheb,” said Ajay Verma, general secretary of Chitragupta Society, a body of Kayasthas.
Verma added that the Kayastha community feels neglected by the BJP given that the number of Kayastha representatives in Parliament has gone down to 17. “The BJP has been disrespecting the Kayasthas. It has wronged Shatrughan Sinha. Kayasthas are proud of Sinha. The vote will be divided this time,” he added.
Verma also said, “Prasad is working hard as he knows Sinha is a two-term MP from the seat. On the other hand, Sinha has the confidence that he will not lose. However, none of them has done any work for the people of Patna Sahib. It will be a neck and neck fight.
“Ticket to Sadhvi Pragya in Bhopal over sitting MP Alok Sanjar, a Kayastha leader, has also become a talking point in Kayastha fraternity in Patna Saheb.
“People here neither like Sinha nor Prasad but they don’t have any other option. Prasad, in fact, is facing opposition from within his own party. He was shown black flags by none other than his own party’s former MP RK Sinha’s supporters and now he is busy meeting Kayastha people over maachh bhaat (a customary feast of fish and rice) in a bid to woo the voters,” said Pandey Akhilesh Kumar, another representative of Chitragupta Society.
Many believe the Kayasthas are backing Prasad in the hope that he will get a plum cabinet post in the new NDA government, which will translate into the community’s welfare. “Patna Sahib constituency has six Assembly segments, out of which five– Patna Sahib (Nandkishor Yadav), Kumhrar (Arun Kumar Sinha), Bankipur (Nitin Nabin), Digha (Sanjiv Chaurasia) and Bakhtiarpur (Ranvijay Singh) –have BJP MLA. The sixth seat, Fatuha, is held by RJD’s Rama Nand Yadav. The sitting MLAs do have a pressure of maintaining a rapport with the central leadership of the party for the sake of their own future. That makes Prasad’s prospects brighter than Sinha’s,” said Ravi Nandan Sahay, national president of Akhil Bharatiya Kayastha Mahasabha.
Sahay, however, added that both Prasad and Sinha are unapproachable. While Sinha is an MP from Patna Sahib, he lives mostly in Mumbai, which also plays on the voters’ mind.
In any case, the Kayasthas have never gone with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) nor the latter has ever tried to woo the community given the party’s role in bringing in the reservation system. Kayasthas, who are mostly literate and historically occupied the highest government and administrative offices during early medieval Indian kingdoms, the Mughal Empire and during the British rule as well, believe reservation has affected their position in society.
Sahay said, “Kayasthas have never been with the RJD as the party’s politics is focused on the backwards. The party has never supported the forward community. This is going to be a negative for Shatrughan Sinha.”
At the same time, an RJD-Congress alliance will benefit Sinha. The constituency has a considerable chunk of Yadav and Muslim voters that are likely to fall in the Congress leader’s kitty.
Amit Kumar (32), who lives near Sinha’s residence in Nala Road in Patna Saheb, said, “Sinha has not done any work in 10 years. You can see the condition of roads here, especially the lane behind his house. Recently, a woman’s chain was snatched from that lane.
“Another voter Dilip Kumar (35) said, “The Kayastha votes will go to the BJP as Sinha has done nothing. He never meets people over here.
“On the other hand, Harishankar Jha (50), a Brahmin and a businessman from Patna Sahib, said, “We will vote for Shatrughan Sinha. He is a Bihari Babu. He is a filmstar who is known all over the world. Who knows Ravi Shankar? We will vote for mahagathbandhan. Tell the BJP leaders to ask for votes on GST, demonetisation, unemployment. They are seeking votes in the name of terrorism and air strikes.”
He added: “Why will Shatrughan Sinha work for cleanliness in the city? Is that the work of an MP? The municipal corporation and ward representatives need to do these things. I have never voted for the BJP,” he added.
Kundan Kumar, a businessman, said Sinha could never come out of his celebrity aura and did not use his MP fund for the city.
Expressing her confidence that Prasad is going to win, Ravi Shankar’s wife Dr Maya Shankar said, “If Ravi Shankar believes in something, he tries his best to achieve that. He cannot tolerate things that go against the interest of the country. He is a clean person. No challenge is a challenge for him but yes that doesn’t mean he will not work hard. He is very enthusiastic. I don’t think the caste factor will work. Ravi is fighting against a dummy candidate.”
Refusing to talk about Sinha, Prasad said, “I am promoting a positive narrative of India. Resurgent India. Safe India. Secure India. As an IT minister, the digital revolution which I have brought…I have brought the metro train to Patna as a Union Cabinet Minister, Smart City to Patna…TCS is going to start its operations in Patna very soon. I have expanded the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) in Patna.” He said Shatrughan had been winning from the seat because of the BJP only.
Shatrughan Sinha, when asked if the incumbency factor will go against him this time as the BJP has fielded a known face, said, “The kind of respect I get from all sections of people here, I feel connected to them. It could be a factor that could hurt public sentiments if I am not here. People here have known me, worked with me, a majority of them believe this constituency got name and fame due to Bihari Babu… I have fought for the city and brought development here.”