Turning The Tide


Araria Lok Sabha by-poll result suggests that RJD voters are taking Lalu Yadav as victim of centre’s vendetta politics and CBI is plotting cases against the Bihar’s heavy weight kshatrap


While the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party tie up yielded results in Uttar Pradesh, in neighbouring Bihar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) managed to retain one Lok Sabha and one state assembly seat, notwithstanding the fact that on July 27, 2017, the Janata Dal (United) broke ranks with the grand alliance and returned to the National Democratic Alliance fold.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to win the Bhabua assembly, where Rinki Rani Pandey, the widow of late BJP MLA Anand Bhushan Pandey, defeated Congress candidate Shambhu Patel by about 15,000 votes.

The RJD’s victory in the Araria Lok Sabha constituency by 57,358 votes and in Jehanabad by 35,036 may not have drawn as much media attention as the BJP’s humiliation in Uttar Pradesh, yet it needs mentioning since the party’s victory has come at a time when everything has been going against its supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav.

He himself is in jail – convicted in more than one fodder scam case – his wife Rabri Devi, his politically active children and even his sons-in-law have been implicated in different cases, yet the RJD has performed so well.

The victory in Araria holds significance since, in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP contested separately, and with over 40% Muslim voters, the RJD’s Mohammad Taslimuddin exploited the situation and won.

However, what tends to get overlooked is that besides Muslims, Araria also has a huge population of Extremely Backward Castes (EBC) and Scheduled Castes.

As the BJP candidate Pradeep Singh himself hails from an EBC group (he is a Gangota), and Yadavs are not highly influential in this parliamentary constituency, it was predicted that the RJD would face a stiff challenge after the coming together of JD(U) and BJP.

Since this was not actually the case, it is safe to say that the magic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is fading. Similarly, the EBC-Mahadalit social equation woven by chief minister Nitish Kumar after coming to power in 2005 has failed to work.

That the BJP is still putting up a fight is largely because of Singh himself, who had represented this seat in the Lok Sabha between 2009 and 2014. As a candidate, even some Muslims of the constituency find him acceptable.

The results in Jehanabad were on expected lines, with the RJD candidate Suday Yadav, son of late RJD MLA Mundrika Yadav, bagging the seat. The caste-based polarisation is quite sharp in Jehanabad.

Similarly, in Bhabua as well, the caste arithmetic favoured the BJP. As Brahmins form a sizeable portion of the electorate, and the saffron party candidate belongs to this caste, her victory was very much predictable. After all, the sympathy factor too worked in her favour.

The switching of sides by former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, leader of the Hindustani Awam Morcha, just 11 days before the March 11 by-polls, came as a blow to the NDA.

Surprisingly, Manjhi crossed over to the grand alliance on February 28, just over a week after he accompanied the Bihar BJP chief Nityanand Rai and the saffron party’s Araria candidate Singh to the filing of the latter’s nomination papers.

After joining the grand alliance, Manjhi accused both the BJP and the JD(U) of ditching the Mahadalits, especially the Musahars, his own caste. Musahars have a sizeable presence in both Araria and Jehanabad.

Manjhi was, in particular, critical of the state government’s prohibition law, which according to him, is protecting the rich and powerful but putting the SCs, STs and EBCs behind bars.

Only last week, the state government conceded on the floor of the assembly that in all, 1.22 lakh people have been arrested since the new excise policy came into effect on April 6, 2016. The panic in the NDA camp became quite visible when on the last day of campaigning, Rai said that the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal would become an ISI hub after the RJD’s victory. Curiously, Sarfaraz was till recently a JD(U) MLA and his late father, Taslimuddin, too had joined this party. He returned to the RJD fold just some time before the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Taslimuddin was the Union minister of state for home during the United Front government in the mid-1990s.

BJP Got Burnt Under Minority Heat Over Nitish

The Araria Lok Sabha constituency comprises six assembly seats — Narpatganj, Raniganj (SC), Forbesganj, Araria, Jokihat and Sihti. Out of these six assembly seats, four seats have evenly distributed caste equations. Such seats are Narpatganj, Raniganj (SC), Forbesganj and Sikti. Rest two — Araria and Jokihat have Muslim voters to the tune of near 60 and 72 percent respectively. If we do a comparative analysis in all six assembly segments, BJP candidate Pradeep Singh had managed a lead of near 15,000 to 20,000 votes over his RJD rival Sarfaraz Alam in Narpatganj, Raniganj (SC), Forbesganj and Sikti. But, in Muslim dominated Araria and Jokihat assembly segments, Sarfaraz Alam polled near 1.07 lakh and 1.2 lakh votes respectively while his BJP rival could manage mere 56,000 and 39,000 votes.

This kind of voting indicates that Nitish Kumar’s decision to desert Lalu didn’t go down well among the minorities of the constituency. And at the same time, BJP failed to bring its voters, especially EBCs, to the polling booths while RJD workers were able to score over their saffron counterparts. Hence, low voter turnout (57 percent) helped RJD candidate sail through the highly polarized Araria Lok Sabha by-poll.