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Out of Electoral Fray, Ram Vilas Paswan Faces Test of Political Clout in His ‘VIP Constituency’

The Hajipur constituency, which goes to the polls in the fifth phase on May 6, has been reserved for Scheduled Castes since 1957 with exceptions in 1962, 1967 and 1971 elections when it was declared a general seat.

Ashok Mishra |

Updated:May 1, 2019, 10:29 AM IST
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Out of Electoral Fray, Ram Vilas Paswan Faces Test of Political Clout in His ‘VIP Constituency’
File photo of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan. (PTI)

Patna: Hitherto considered one of the star constituencies of Bihar, the Hajipur Lok Sabha seat seems to have lost its sheen due to the absence of union minister and senior Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan from the electoral fray this time.

It had earned the tag of ‘VIP constituency’ because Paswan contested elections from here since 1977 and represented it nine times in the Lok Sabha barring a few interruptions.

But, for the first time, this high-profile constituency has lost the tag because Paswan is himself not contesting the elections. Instead, his brother, and state president of the Lok Janshakti Party, Pashupati Kumar Paras, is contesting as party nominee against RJD’s Shivchandra Ram.

The Hajipur constituency, which goes to the polls in the fifth phase on May 6, has been reserved for Scheduled Castes since 1957 with exceptions in 1962, 1967 and 1971 elections when it was declared a general seat.

It was represented by Congress four times till LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan won with a record margin in 1977. In 1989, he made it to the Guinness Book of World Records by winning the seat with a margin of 470,000 votes. He has since been upstaged by P V Narsimha Rao, who won the Nandyal Lok Saabha seat by over 5 lakh votes.

Paswan is not contesting the elections this time because he has been given an assurance by the BJP leadership of a nomination to Rajya Sabha, besides the six seats of his choice to the LJP in the ensuing elections. But his bonding with Hajipur remains as strong as ever.

“While Kusheshwarsthan in Darbhanga district is my birth place, Garhpura in Begusarai is the place where I had my first political lessons from the socialists and Hajipur is my karmabhoomi. Though I am not contesting this time, I am very attached to it,” Paswan said.

Initially, speculation was rife that his wife Reena Paswan will contest from the seat but Pashupati Kumar Paras was chosen seemingly after pressure from supporters.

“People of Hajipur have mounted pressure that Pashupati must contest the election from this seat. At first, Pashupati was not ready and urged me to request my wife to contest the polls. But after immense pressure from the people, he agreed to contest from Hajipur. I am happy that my brother has replaced me as the party candidate,” Paswan said.

However, his own absence from the electoral arena has changed the political contours of the constituency. “Hajipur has not only lost the glamour it used to have when Ram Vilas Paswan contested the polls but its political equations too have changed due to his absence. He is a towering national leader and enjoys the stature, which his brother cannot match,” said one Jiveshwar Singh of Mahnar.

Hajipur has prevalence of scheduled castes seconded only by the numerically and politically dominant Rajputs and Bhumihars followed by Yadavs.

The Rajputs and Bhumihars hold the key but the disenchantment of the sitting LJP MP from Vaishali Rama Singh, a Rajput, is proving to be an irritant for Paras. Before becoming MP from Vaishali seat, Rama Singh was LJP MLA from Mahnar assembly seat, which is part of the Hajipur Lok Sabha constituency.

Having been dropped this time by the LJP, Rama Singh is now openly canvassing for RJD candidate Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, whom he had defeated in 2014 from the neighbouring Vaishali Lok Sabha constituency. Rama was upset with the elevation of Chirag Paswan as party’s de-facto chief. In turn, Chirag had also rejected Rama’s request for a ticket for his wife to contest the state assembly elections.

Rama Singh is a Rajput leader and has the potential to transfer some votes to the other side. His supporters in Mahnar area are opposed to Paras. “Had there been Ram Vilas Paswan in the fray, Rama Singh would not have opposed,” Jiveshwar said.

But followers of Ram Vilas Paswan do not agree that his absence would cause much of a difference. “Though Paras is the official nominee, it is Ram Vilas Paswan who is actually fighting the elections. It is the seat of Paswan and it will continue to remain his seat as long as he is in politics,” said Rajeshwar Shah of Vidupur bazar.

As poll campaign turns high-pitched, the opposition RJD is trying to revive the electoral efficacy of the backward classes’ politics of the 1990s to reverse the BJP-led NDA’s electoral upsurge. The RJD nominee Shivchandra Ram is banking on the traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank of Lalu Prasad Yadav besides support of the backward and extremely backward castes.

However, the RJD is in for a tough fight. Adding to its woes is the presence of rebel candidate Balindra Das, nominee of Lalu’s elder son Tej Pratap Yadav, under the banner of Lalu-Rabri Morcha. Tej Pratap is an MLA from the Mahua assembly segment of the Hajipur parliamentary constituency.

Of the six assembly segments in Hajipur parliamentary seat, the NDA candidates had won from Hajipur (BJP), Lalganj (LJP) and Mahnar(JDU) assembly segments while the RJD had won from Mahua, Raghopur and Raja Pakar. The RJD candidate Shivchandra Ram is sitting MLA from Raja Pakar assembly seat.

Paswan has assiduously nourished this constituency and is credited with changing Hajipur’s rural profile to a hub of industries, educational institutions of national repute like a hotel management institute, NIPER and steel-processing plants besides many other development projects.

He put Hajipur on country’s map by setting up the headquarters of the East Central Railway (ECR). The conversion of Hajipur-Bachhwara rail line from meter gauge to broad gauge and a railway hospital are courtesy of Paswan, which people remember.

Ever since he founded his LJP (LJP) after breaking away from the Janata Dal in 2000, he has emerged as a powerful force and deeply influenced the electoral course in Bihar.

The senior most member of Bihar’s political triumvirate - Lalu, Nitish and Paswan - he has also been a key player in the government formation at the Centre. His association had helped the NDA pave the way for AB Vajpayee to become the Prime Minister.

He not only took regional aspirations to the national level but also championed the cause of Dalits to the extent of projecting himself as the most suitable candidate for a Dalit Prime Minister.

As a Dalit leader, Paswan enjoys strong clout among Bihar’s Dalits, particularly the militant Dusadh community. With this support base, Paswan has been able to tilt the balance in favour of the political combination he sided with. This election will be a test of Paswan’s political clout in his karmabhoomi Hajipur.

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