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|September 30, 1999||
Voters want the return of the native
Soroor Ahmed in Banka
On September 27, 1995 over a hundred people perished and 500 houses here were flattened following an unprecedented flash flood. Exactly four years later, people spent anxious moments as the fear of another deluge loomed large. That year, Banka town and the adjoining villages were submerged in 10 to 12 feet deep water as engineers opened a sluice gate of the dam on the Chandan river as they feared it would burst. While the flood caused considerable devastation, then chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav was on his way to the UK and USA to woo NRI investment.
This time too there was apprehension that the dam would collapse as the rain continued to wreak havoc for days together. Dam or no dam, Banka, according to Sarju Prasad Singh, a retired administrative official, has always been a flood-prone district as the Barua, Chandan, Cheer, Jamua Jor, Katoria and Orhani rivers often cause widespread destruction. The 1995 flood washed away Jitarpur village not far away from the dam, killing more than 40 people there alone.
"Since 1995 nothing has been done for the flood victims nor were the roads repaired. The tragedy is that most of the MPs elected from here are outsiders and they seldom pay any attention to local problems," said Izhar-ul-Haque, a retired professor of economics, Banka college.
Banka has always been a good host. Since 1977 almost all the MPs who represented the constituency have been outsiders. Be it Madhu Limaye, George Fernandes, Chandrashekar Singh, Manorama Singh, Pratap Singh or Samata spokesman Digvijay Singh, who won in 1998, none of them have their roots here.
The first two are non-Biharis while two-time MP Pratap Singh, former PM V P Singh's sambdi, is settled in Calcutta. As if that was not enough, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, much against the wish of many local partymen, decided to field Shakuni Chaudhary here.
The RJD move seems to have backfired as Girdhari Yadav, who represented the constituency between 1996 and 1998, threw his hat in as a rebel candidate. He has an advantage of being a local. With a sizeable Muslim and Yadav following, he is hopeful of making a big dent in the RJD votebank. Girdhari Yadav and Shakuni Chaudhary's supporters exchanged fire after the latter filed his nomination. "We have made it a prestige issue," said Jagdish Yadav, Girdhari Yadav's campaign manager.
Janata Dal-U candidate Digvijay Singh should have capitalised on the Girdhari Yadav-Shakuni Chaudhary clash. Chaudhury is a Koeri leader who recently jumped on the Laloo bandwagon. But even the 150,000 Rajput voters are not showing much enthusiasm for Singh. Apart from Saat-patti (a cluster of seven Rajput dominated villages), Rajputs elsewhere are more or less indifferent to him. Chaudhary's presence could deprive Singh of Koeri and some Kurmi votes.
The Rajputs displayed a lot of resentment towards Singh as, according to them, he lives in Delhi and is hardly accessible to the people. Besides, the lieutenants on whom he relies on are not apparently trustworthy, they charged. However, supporters like Sailesh Kumar Singh of Kakwara village gives him credit for getting the Mandar Hill-Dumka rail link sanctioned. Mandar Hill is a sacred site for Hindus.
Chaudhary's supporters claim he will change Banka the way he changed Tarapur, the assembly segment in the Munger parliamentary constituency which he represented earlier. His wife Parwati Devi is now the MLA. "He got roads built and provided drinking water facilities in Tarapur. There is every reason to believe that Banka will not remain the same once he is elected," said Sadanand Mandal.
Though Girdhari Yadav has not done enough in his two-year stint as MP, he is in the words of Professor Izhar-ul Haque, "a local, young, accessible and down-to-earth -- not high-flying like Digvijay. The people of Banka no longer want rajas or big national leaders who come here to contest whenever they are in trouble."
Till early this year both Chaudhary and Singh were in the same party and relished in Laloo-bashing. However, the equation changed after Chaudhary crossed over to the RJD. Laloo got a shot in the arm by winning over Shakuni, as he managed to secure the support of a sizeable number of Koeris all over the state.
Chaudhary's problem is that while contesting on a Samata Party ticket from Khagaria in 1998 he, by his strong-arm tactics, antagonised RJD cadres. In Khagaria RJD supporters do not plan to forgive him for the excesses of last year.
Banka was a relatively safe seat as Girdhari Yadav lost the last election. Besides, most local MLAs were opposed to Girdhari Yadav. This encouraged the RJD chief to replace him with Chaudhary. However, Girdhari Yadav's supporters reacted sharply, stating he had a better claim over the seat because he lost the last election by just 11,291 votes. They attributed the defeat to large-scale rigging by Digvijay Singh's supporters.
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