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Caught in ‘Naamdar vs Kaamdar’ Web, Meira Kumar Banks on Father’s Legacy to Make the Cut in Sasaram

File photo of Meira Kumar said. (Credit: Reuters)

File photo of Meira Kumar said. (Credit: Reuters)

The Sasaram Lok Sabha seat, which goes to polls in the seventh phase on May 19, has been synonymous with Jagjivan Ram, the former deputy Prime Minister who won from this constituency for a record eight successive terms from 1952 to 1984.

Patna: “Naamdar aur Kaamdar ke beech ladaai hai Sasaram mein (It is fight between the dynast and the doer in Sasaram),’ declared BJP nominee and sitting MP Chhedi Paswan.

Taking a cue from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Naamdar versus Kaamdar’ jibe against Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, the BJP nominee has made it his election catchphrase to take on his rival, former Lok Sabha speaker and Congress nominee Meira Kumar, in the Sasaram reserved Lok Sabha constituency in Bihar.

Making a distinction between the one who works (kaamdar) and the dynast (Naamdar), Paswan said he is a commoner and not born with a silver spoon unlike the Congress nominee. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is fighting it at the national level and I am fighting it at the local level,” Paswan averred.

“I stay in Sasaram except when Parliament session is on and regularly monitor the development works in my constituency. I am among those very few Lok Sabha MPs who have spent almost the entire MPLAD scheme fund for the development of the constituency. On the contrary, the Congress nominee rarely visited the constituency after her victory in the past,” Paswan claimed.

While the BJP nominee has taken the electoral battle to the ‘legacy versus work’ narrative, Kumar is recalling the pioneering work her father and legendry leader, Babu Jagjivan Ram, did for the development of this otherwise backward constituency. She is seeking votes in the name of her family legacy as well as the works done by her as MP of this constituency for two successive terms in 2004 and 2009.

The Sasaram Lok Sabha seat, which goes to polls in the seventh phase on May 19, has been synonymous with Jagjivan Ram, the former deputy Prime Minister and defence minister, who won from this constituency for a record eight successive terms from 1952 to 1984.

Old timers recall how Jagjivan Ram struggled to end the social menace of untouchability and worked to develop this backward region of Bihar into an industrial hub. It was due to his tireless efforts that big industries were set up and the Sone canal system constructed during British period was renovated to provide irrigation facilities to the farmers in the area.

Topographically, the constituency is divided into two zones -- the arid hilly terrain and the verdant green fields -- by the historic Grand Trunk Road made by the legendary Shershah Suri of the Afghan dynasty. While the industries grew on the foothills of the hilly terrain, the green fields nurtured by the Sone canal system yielded huge quantity of paddy crop, giving it the sobriquet of ‘rice-bowl of Bihar’.

But the buzzing industrial hub of Dalmianagar and Dehri-on-Sone zone in the late 1970s now wears a desolate look and the Sone canal system has turned into ruins due to a lack of proper upkeep. The ambitious multi-purpose Durgawati reservoir project, which was the dream project of Jagjivan Ram, is yet to provide irrigation even after over 25 years as its tributaries are still incomplete.

“It is true that 109 tributaries of Durgawati project, meant to provide irrigation facilities to 386 adjoining villages, are yet to be completed, defeating the very purpose of this ambitious project. But the state government is seized with the matter and steps are being taken to finish the work,” said Lallan Paswan, MLA of the Chenari assembly segment.

The inaccessible hilly terrains were home to notorious dacoits like Chhangur Dusadh and Ramashish Koeri during the 1980s and later became a stronghold of Maoists. Still, a major part of the hilly region is dominated by Maoists, whose main source of income is extortion.

But as the election campaign reaches its crescendo, these issues have been lost in the poll din. The campaign has basically boiled down to fight among various caste groups and battle of supremacy among major political parties.

The BJP candidate is banking on the charisma of Modi, who is seeking a second term from the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat in the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. He claims support of every section of the social groupings as an overarching national fervour has gripped the area. Paswan had won the seat twice in 1989 and 1991, breaking Jagjivan Ram’s legacy and Congress’ old Brahmin-Muslim-Dalit social equation.

“The NDA is winning all the four Lok Sabha seats in the old Shahabad region including Sasaram,” said Lallan, the Chenari MLA who recently revolted against Upendra Kushwaha and formed his own outfit.

With support from the RJD, the Congress is expecting heavy polarisation of Muslims and Yadavs in its favour. It is also looking forward to get the support of Koeris (also called Kushwahas) because Meira is the ‘bahu’ of a known Koeri political family. She is expecting to benefit from the joining of RLSP leader and former union minister Upendra Kushwaha into the mahagathbandhan fold. Kushwaha is contesting from the neighbouring Karakat Lok Sabha seat, which he currently represents in the Lok Sabha.

Meira Kumar’s daughter, artist Devangana Kumar, was quoted as saying, “Bihar voted in an unusual manner in 2014 in favour of NDA and my mother lost. This time, we are confident that she will emerge victorious.”

Also in the fray is Manoj Kumar of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which has a considerable influence in this region. The BSP chief Mayawati chose to enter Bihar from this region as it has considerable Dalit votes. The BSP candidates like Mahabali Singh and Suresh Pasi had won from Chainpur and Mohania assembly seats, respectively, in 1995 and 2000 elections. In 2005 state assembly polls, it had won five assembly seats -- Bhabua, Buxar, Gopalganj, Dinara and Nautan -- in Bihar and garnered around one lakh votes in 1996 Lok Sabha elections.

Kumar had contested the presidential elections as an opposition candidate in 2017 in which she sought votes in the name of ‘battle of ideologies’, urging MPs and state legislators to heed their voice of conscience. She lost to Ram Nath Kovind but made a record of sorts -- polled the highest votes by losing a candidate in the Presidential poll so far. This time, Kumar is back in parliamentary politics and her reputation would be put to test once again.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal)