Patna: It is a clash between two titans this time in the electoral arena of Bihar’s Saran Lok Sabha constituency, formerly known as Chapra constituency, from where RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav started his political innings in 1977.
Locked in a close contest are former union minister and BJP nominee Rajiv Pratap Rudy and former Bihar minister and RJD candidate Chandrika Rai. Both are suave, educated and mild-mannered -- a change of trait that is being observed here for the first time in nearly five decades.
Rai, the sitting RJD MLA from Parsa assembly segment, is a postgraduate from Patna University and has a glorious political legacy as his father, Daroga Prasad Rai, was the chief minister of Bihar in 1970. Having served as cabinet minister in Bihar twice, Rai’s recent claim to fame was his daughter Aishwarya Rai’s wedding with Lalu Yadav’s elder son, Tej Pratap Yadav.
Rudy, the sitting MP, is self-made in politics and has groomed himself from a student leader of Punjab University to becoming the union minister twice. Rudy is credited with the tag of ‘only Parliamentarian operating Airbus-320 Jets’ and flying with one of the largest airlines in the country. He has also earned the distinction of being the only civilian to have flown Sukhoi 30-MKI fighter aircraft.
“It is a fight between two urbane and sophisticated politicians on a tough political terrain, which has seen bitter political rivalry and violence in the past. For the first time, two stylish politicians are giving a classy twist to the otherwise humdrum electoral battle,” said Shailendra Singh from Amnour constituency.
Nestled in the riverine belt of Ganga, Saryu and Ghaghra, the Saran constituency was earlier known as ‘Rajputana of Bihar’ because of the numerical preponderance of Rajputs and their dominance in politics. The Rajputs have only one challenger — the Yadavas — who are powerful and politically ambitious.
After delimitation of constituencies in 2008, the caste equation in this constituency changed, as the Taraiya assembly segment, which has dominance of Rajputs, was severed and annexed to the neighbouring Maharajganj Lok Sabha constituency. Now, the constituency has marginal preponderance of the Yadavas over the Rajputs.
In the past 15 Lok Sabha elections since independence, the fight of supremacy between the two powerful castes in Saran had reflected in the poll results with Rajputs and Yadavs winning the Lok Sabha seat eight and seven times, respectively. Of these, Lalu Yadav had won four times in 1977, 1989, 2004 and 2009 and lost only once in 1980.
Although Lalu Yadav did not contest the elections in 2014 because of his conviction in the fodder scam case, he fought the proxy battle by fielding his wife and former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi. However, Rabri Devi was defeated by over 40,000 votes by BJP nominee Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who had won from Saran (erstwhile Chapra) twice in the past.
RJD supporters, however, attribute Rudy’s win in 2014 to the division of votes due to the presence of Janata Dal (U) candidate Salim Parvez in the fray. “Salim had secured over 1 lakh votes, and if the votes polled for Rabri and Parvez are added, they far exceed the total votes polled by Rudy. Earlier, Rudy had never won whenever he faced Lalu Yadav. He lost in 2004 and 2009 polls, and won in 1996 against Janata Dal nominee Lal Babu Rai and in 1999 against Hira Lal Rai of RJD,” said Ramanuj Prasad, RJD MLA from Sonepur assembly segment.
Besides the Rajputs spread along the Sonepur-Doriganj stretch of Ganga-Gandak riverine area, Rudy claims support of the Brahmins, Bhumihars, Kayasthas, Vaishyas, Kurmis, Dusadhs (Paswans) and majority of the extremely backward caste (EBC) votes because this time Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is with the NDA.
Rudy goes to people seeking votes for the special efforts he has made to develop Saran as a model district by way of industrial investment, infrastructure and raising resources and creating employment opportunities for the posterity and fulfilling people’s aspirations.
The Saran (Chapra) L0ok Sabha seat has been considered the political turf of Lalu Yadav ever since he first won as Bharatiya Lok Dal candidate in 1977. After he took over the reins of Bihar, Saran was the hub of social justice movement. Almost all the assembly seats, barring a few, were won by the Janata Dal and then by the RJD in successive years.
Rai, who also happens to be the ‘samdhi’ of Lalu Yadav, is banking on the Muslim-Yadav combination besides votes of the backward castes, Ravidas and others. The RJD is trying to make it a ‘Mandal versus Kamandal” bout to consolidate the vote bank of backward castes.
Rai has been the MLA from the Parsa assembly segment of Saran six times since 1985, barring October 2005 and 2010 assembly elections. Before his entry into politics, his father Daroga Prasad Rai had won from Parsa seven times except in 1977.
Refuting the development plank of the BJP, the RJD supporters claimed that all major projects in this constituency — the mega diesel engine project at Marhowra and rail wheel factory at Bela — have been brought by the RJD chief.
Amid the high-pitched electioneering, Tej Pratap, whose annoyance with his wife’s family is publicly known, is keeping away from this constituency to send across the message that the ties between the two political families are still intact.
In the clash of titans in the Saran Lok Sabha seat, it would be interesting to watch whether Rudy will equal the record of Lalu Yadav by winning the seat for the fourth time or Rai, the scion of high-profile political family, will trounce him in the keenly-fought electoral battle. For Chandrika, his win will see the transfer of the Lalu’s legacy to the old political family of Yadavs of this constituency.
(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.)