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September 16, 1999


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Constituency/ Hajipur

Vicious electoral battle on in Hajipur

Tara Shankar Sahay in Hajipur

The view from the 7.5 km-long Gandhi Setu (bridge) is spectacular. The muddy Ganga, swollen in the rains, has submerged huge tracts of land.

When the bridge, said to be the longest in Asia, was constructed in early 1990, it proved to be a boon, connecting north Bihar with central Bihar. It also aided the social justice juggernaut of Laloo Prasad Yadav to quickly roll across north Bihar which still remains his political bastion, and across a sizeable area of central Bihar.

Coincidentally, the construction of the Gandhi Setu and the emergence of RJD supremo Laloo Yadav's social justice plank occurred almost simultaneously. Those were the days when Laloo, George Fernandes, Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar swore by the Janata Dal, which had promised to give the poor and oppressed a fair deal.

Then the comrades turned bitter foes, with some of the messiahs of social justice, teaming with the "communal forces" they had so derided.

Now, the Hajipur parliamentary constituency near the Ganga has become the battleground of the friends-turned foes with the Congress-supported Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate Ramai Ram clashing with the Janata Dal (United)'s Ram Vilas Paswan, who is backed by the BJP.

Paswan, former railway minister in the H D Deve Gowda government has won in Hajipur since 1977 except on two occasions. In 1984, he lost in the pro-Indira Gandhi wave and, in 1991, he shifted to Rosera constituency.

He returned to win it in 1996 and last year he defeated the RJD candidate Ram Sundar Das by a huge margin. Das, after his defeat, quit the RJD and is in the fray this time as the Samajwadi Janata Party's candidate.

Hence, a triangular contest is in the offing although Paswan looks like he has the edge.

The entry of Das is bound to split the Chamar votes between him and the RJD candidate Ramai Ram, while Paswan stands to gain the votes from his Dusadh community. He also stands to gain from the JD(U) tie-up with the BJP.

" Ram Vilas won earlier; he'll win by a huge margin this time," says Ajit Kishore Narayan, Paswan's election manager and local leader. He believes that while the RJD and SJP candidates have to share the SC votes, Paswan will absorb the Dusadh votes along with the bulk of the others. He says the Rajput, Bhumihar, Kurmi and Koeri votes will come to the JD(U), making Paswan's position unassailable.

JD(U) activist Bhiku Paswan points out that the combined Kurmi-Koeri votes, totalling about 120,000, would go against the RJD candidate because of Laloo's crude behaviour with JD(U) leaders, including Nitish Kumar and Paswan.

"Laloo had behaved insultingly. We have to teach him a lesson," says Manohar Majhi, a wizened old man who is almost blind. He claims he went to Laloo for help in getting his eyes treated but was turned away by the RJD chief.

Paswan's hold on his constituency is being attributed to the developmental work he organised.

"Ram Vilas has put Hajipur on the world map. We are grateful to him" or words to that effect are what we often hear from locals, who are particularly happy with Paswan for his work on the railway in Hajipur.

In the Raghopur assembly segment, rickshaw-driver Radhu Gosain says Paswan is popular because he personally knows at least 50 people in every panchayat in the constituency.

"You can yourself see how he comes to meets us, says Gosain.

According to a reservation clerk at Hajipur railway station, Paswan made it a modern junction with computerised reservation. He also introduced the New Delhi-Barauni Rajdhani Express that stops at Hajipur and established a zonal railway office that could provide locals with employment.

"The zonal office will generate at least 3,000 jobs for us and indirectly provide sustenance to many others,: says Babloo, a JD(U) activist.

Though Paswan has done much good around the railway, there is sign of development elsewhere in the constituency. Local critics of Paswan say that although he promised the people a heart institute in Hajipur, it did not come up. Now agricultural activities are being carried out on the land allotted for the heart institute, they say.

The JD(U) is also relying on the upper castes like Bhumihars and Rajputs in the constituency, who are apparently disillusioned by the RJD form of governance.

Paswan's election manager say local upper caste residents regularly assure the JD(U) candidate that they will vote for him to ensure Laloo Yadav's downfall at any cost.

But RJD candidate Ramai Ram says any advantage going to Paswan because of the JD(U) being formed) is offset by the flak he has drawn for first criticising and then joining up with the communal forces.

"Voters in Hajipur cannot be taken for a ride. Can they forgive Paswan's treachery? He has moved over to the communal camp and abuses us, the very hand that nurtured him politically," Ramai Ram says angrily, asserting that Hajipur would be Paswan's Waterloo.

He says the 60,000 Muslims in the constituency have dubbed Paswan as "BJP's bag-carrier" and a "renegade opportunist". Paswan can bid goodbye to the Muslim votes, the RJD candidate says.

The district Congress chief Harvansh Narayan Singh referred to Paswan's "hypocrisy". He said that while Paswan went around Hajipur claiming he favoured uniform education for everybody, his own son and daughter were studying in London."

"Is this dalit politics, making fools of others while sending his own children to London for studies," Singh asks.

He says the people of Hajpur would never forgive Paswan because he had voted against the Vajpayee government during its trial of strength in the Lok Sabha and then, when it suited him, he began working with the BJP.

The most serious charge against Paswan by the RJD-Congress combine is that he allegedly collected Rs six billion from local people to invest in the JVG group of companies that subsequently went bankrupt.

"Paswan was in cahoots with the JVG promoters and they have defrauded the people of Hajipur," Singh claimed.


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