The high-pitched campaigning for the first phase of Lok Sabha elections in Bihar, which is due on April 11, drew to a close at 5 pm on Tuesday. Four constituencies in the state will elect their Parliamentary representatives on Thursday in a fight that circles around Nitish Kumar's reputation of a 'susashan babu' (Mr. Good Governance) and the Grand Alliance's appeal for caste votes.
Lok Sabha constituencies of Jamui, Gaya, Aurangabad and Nawada will be voting in the first phase. Approximately 70 lakh voters are eligible to decide the fate of 44 candidates on Thursday.
News18 travelled all four Lok Sabha constituencies castto find that the battle between 'Ghar ka aadmi' and 'vikas' is very prominent. Voters refer to 'Ghar ka aadmi' for the candidate belonging to the same caste as well as constituency while the latter translates to development.
The South Bihar's group of districts has a large population of Rajputs, Yadavs, Musahars, OBCs, EBCs along with a sizeable portion of Muslims. The NDA is banking on votes from upper castes like Rajputs along with a few OBC groups, whereas the Grand Alliance's hopes lie with the Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits.
The southern belt has also been grappling with the problem of Naxalism in the recent past.
The over two-week-long canvassing saw top leaders of the ruling National Democratic Alliance and their constituents — Janata Dal-United, Bharatiya Janata Party and Lok Janshakti Party — as well as the leaders of the opposition Grand Alliance comprising Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha and Vikasshil Insan Party.
On the last day of campaigning, Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed an election meeting in Gaya in favour of HAM chief and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi.
A week before that, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had addressed two rallies in Gaya and Jamui accompanied by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar. Besides, six left parties, the BSP and Pappu Yadav's Jan Adhikar Party also hit the campaign trail.
Aurangabad, popularly known as the Chittorgarh of Bihar, is all set to witness a direct contest between the forward and backward castes with the Grand Alliance pitting Upendra Prasad of the HAM (Secular) against sitting MP Sushil Kumar Singh of the BJP.
While BJP candidate, Singh is banking on the saffron party’s vote bank – Rajput, Bhumihar, Brahmin – HAM (S) candidate Prasad, a former MLC, is expecting votes from Koeris, Yadavs, Muslims, Paswans and Musahars in the SC category.
Aurangabad has the highest population of Rajputs among all districts in Bihar and accounts for 18 percent of the votes in the constituency.
Minority and Yadav votes together account for nine percent of the electorate. After Rajputs, Musahars and Yadavs are in sizeable numbers in the constituency.
In a maiden move since the first general election held in 1952, the Congress did not field its candidate from this Rajput dominated seat. The denial of ticket to former Congress MP Nikhil Kumar has caused strong resentment among party workers.
His absence has strengthened the BJP’s position. A majority of the upper caste voters, particularly the Brahmins used to vote for the Congress and had elected Nikhil Kumar for Lok Sabha in 2004.
While Upendra is a new face, Sushil has represented the seat thrice in the Lok Sabha in 1998, 2009 and 2014.
With 5.5 percent population of Musahars in the constituency, Gaya is a battle that can be won only with the support of voters belonging to scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Both the political alliances are very well aware of this caste equation and have fielded Jitam Ram Manjhi as the Grand Alliance candidate and Vijay Kumar Manjhi from the NDA.
The South Bihar Lok Sabha constituency is currently held by the BJP’s Hari Manjhi who won the seat in 2014 by defeating RJD's Ramji Manjhi with a margin of nearly 3.16 lakh votes. Jitan Ram Manjhi, now the supremo of HAM, had contested the election on a JD(U) ticket but finished third.
Ram Vilas Paswan's son and young LJP leader Chirag Paswan is seeking a re-election from the reserved seat of Jamui.
The 36-year-old, whose political foray came a few years after his acting debut, had clinched a comfortable victory with a margin of 80,000 votes. Five years on, Paswan is set to face a tough contest in the Bihar constituency, given the altered caste dynamics.
Paswan is pitted against Rashtriya Lok Samata Party’s Bhudeo Chaudhary, who had won the first general election that the constituency saw after it came into existence in 2008.
Chaudhary, who was the NDA candidate in 2009, fought on a JD(U) ticket, trumping over the runner’s up – RJD’s Shyam Rajak by 30,000 votes. The RLSP candidate is now being fielded by the grand opposition alliance in the state.
The 59-year-old candidate from RLSP, a party led by Nitish Kumar’s former associate Upendra Kushwaha, is banking on the support of the Kushwaha community, which has a sizeable presence in the district.
Moreover, Jamui’s Rajputs have also expressed their discontent after BJP expelled Putul Kumari and denied her a ticket for entering the fray as an independent candidate from the adjoining Banka district.
Kumari’s husband, the late Digvijay Singh, who has served multiple terms as an MP from the neighbouring constituency and has been a minister in the governments led by Chandra Shekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is highly regarded by the people in the region.
The political battle in Nawada is again a direct fight for local supremacy between the forward and backward castes.
Upper caste Bhumihar voters along with the locally dominant backward caste of Yadavs constitute the majority population in the district.
Keeping this caste dynamic in mind, the ruling NDA has fielded a Bhumihar candidate, Chandan Kumar, the younger brother of former MP Surajbhan Singh, a criminal turned politician. Grand Alliance, on the other hand, has fielded Vibha Devi, wife of expelled party MLA Rajballabh Yadav who has been sentenced to life imprisonment for raping a minor girl.
Local residents in the area are concerned about the criminal backgrounds of both candidates.
After the Nawada seat went to the Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP under the NDA's seat-sharing formula, the sitting BJP MP and Union Minister Giriraj Singh was shifted to the Begusarai seat.
While RJD's Vibha Devi is banking on the support of nearly 3 lakh Yadav voters, besides, the constituency has over 1 lakh Muslim voters, NDA's Chandan Kumar is expecting the support of over 3 lakh voters belonging to his Bhumihar caste.
Voting preference of the extremely backward castes and Dalits, who constitute a sizeable chunk of voters, is uncertain because of no leader representing their caste.