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Tough battle awaits Rabri Devi

By Ajay Kumar in Raghopur
October 23, 2005 16:31 IST
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With the National Democratic Alliance consolidating the Rajputs and non-Yadav backward castes, the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led Secular Democratic Front's likely chief ministerial candidate Rabri Devi is locked in a keen electoral battle with a political greenhorn.

'Why should we vote for Rabri?' is the common refrain among anti-Lalu Prasad voters in the constituency, where Yadavs account for 53 per cent of the 21,19,163 electorate, but the RJD chief's better half has an edge over her rivals.

Giving a personal touch to her election campaign during which she not only seeks votes, but also eats whatever is offered by housewives to strike instant rapport, she says, "I will eat whatever is offered."

She has spent nearly five days on the dusty terrain of the constituency largely untouched by development.

Janata Dal- United's Satish Kumar, being regarded apan bouwa (our very own child), is giving sleepless nights to RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav who has held road shows and addressed a series of street-corner meetings to mobilise votes for his wife.

Satish Kumar, once a blue-eyed boy of Lalu, recently fell out with him and joined the JD-U to have a shot at electoral politics against a political heavyweight for whose victory he had toiled in the past.

If the JD-U nominee, a Yadav, succeeds in making a major dent in the sizeable Yadav vote bank of RJD, which will play a decisive role in the polls, he may spring a surprise with perceptible consolidation of Rajputs, who account for 65,000 votes, in favour of the NDA.

Lok Janshakti Party candidate Pramod Kumar Singh, also a Yadav, is working overtime to make it a triangular fight.

He is banking on the support of a major chunk of about 25,000 votes of non-Yadav backward castes as also the Dalits, in the constituency that falls under his chief Ram Vilas Paswan's parliamentary constituency of Hajipur the assembly segment of Raghopur falls.

"Like Paswanji I too will win by a record margin and make it to the record books," he claims.

Rabri's election representative and a former Bihar minister Bhola Rai, who had vacated the seat in 1995 to make way for Lalu Prasad, claims there was no hurdle in the way for Rabri Devi who will win hands down as the Yadavs would ultimately vote for her en masse.

"Everybody will vote for me. This is my home. You have seen how they shower love and affection on me and I am confident that I will win by a huge margin," Rabri said.

A woman smiled as Rabri stepped out of her house during the door-to-door campaign at Bhumihar-dominated Dilawarpur village and said, "She has come seeking votes, but the husband-wife duo are nowhere to be seen when we are in distress."

But when Rabri cheerfully entered the house of Vinod Rai of Terasia village in the riverine area, she had every reason to smile as she was welcomed heartily by the women with saris, bananas and kheer.

Ajit Kumar Singh, the pro-RJD mukhia of Sitalpur-Kamalpur panchayat feels that Rabri's victory will largely hinge on how well Lalu is able to split Rajput votes.

"I believe Satish Kumar will give Rabriji a run for her money," Singh avers and claims that Rajputs are more favourably inclined towards the JD-U nominee than to Pramod Kumar Singh as the LJP leadership image as an anti-Lalu party has taken a beating due to Paswan's thwarting the formation of a NDA government.

"Moreover, his insistence on a Muslim chief minister has not gone down well with the local people," he said.

Pawan Kumar Singh, a JD-U leader, claims that Satish Kumar will poll a major chunk of Yadav votes as also those of other backward castes and Dalits.

Development is indeed an election issue this time though it cannot be said for certain that it would ultimately tilt the scales against Rabri as caste plays the decisive role in determining the victor.

Rajendra Ram, a local Bharatiya Janata Party leader says: "Lalu and Rabri have done nothing other than open a high school at Bidupur.

"You can see the condition of the roads in this flood-ravaged constituency. It takes more than two hours and a half to go to Patna though the distance is hardly 40 km."

Rajesh Kumar, a Lalu acolyte, says whatever the constituency has-- be it electricity or a primary health centre-- is because of Lalu. "Now there is a proposal for opening a kendriya vidyalaya. Moreover, who will not like to elect a chief minister?" he asks.

Ranjan Kumar, a LJP activist, strongly refutes Rajesh's claims and says people still have to take a boat ride nine months in a year as the pontoon bridge connecting Didarganj in Patna to Raghopur remains non-operational.

Given the sensitivity of the constituency, the Vaishali district authorities have declared all 232 booths as sensitive, which will be manned by central para-military forces and district armed police.

"We are leaving nothing to chance. Out of 72 companies of central para-military forces made available to the district, a large number will be deployed in Raghopur. River patrolling will also be introduced to effectively tackle booth grabbers," sub-divisional officer-cum-returning officer Sanjay Kumar Agarwal said.

There are only four candidates in the fray.

Rabri Devi had defeated Rajiv Ranjan of LJP by a margin of 25,261 votes in the February assembly poll.

Lalu had won the seat by huge margin of 46,611 votes in 2000 defeating his nearest independent rival Beera Devi, wife of Baijnath Singh, who is presently burning midnight oil for the victory of Satish Kumar.

Rabri, was elected for the first time from Raghopur in 2001 defeating her nearest JD-U rival Beera Devi by over 63,000 votes.

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Ajay Kumar in Raghopur
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