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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Rudy banks on `Atal', Laloo on charisma

Vinay Kumar


Cruising along National Highway 19, after crossing the bridge on the Gandak river, the road enters Sonepur, part of the Chapra Lok Sabha seat from where the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) president and former Bihar Chief Minister, Laloo Prasad Yadav, is making things difficult for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate and the Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Rajiv Pratap Rudy.

Considered the heart of North Bihar and the centre of education, art and culture in this part of the State, Chapra is witnessing an electoral battle in which both Mr. Yadav and Mr. Rudy are leaving nothing to chance as the prestige of both is at stake. Mr. Rudy is banking upon the election rally of the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, scheduled in Chapra today, to tilt the scales in his favour and whip up an "Atal wave'' to counter the influence of the RJD supremo. Mr. Yadav is also contesting from the Madhepura Lok Sabha constituency, where he is pitted against the Central minister and JD (U) leader, Sharad Yadav.

Mr. Rudy has a problem to overcome: he has been criticised for ignoring his constituency over the past five years. His campaign appeared to have hit a roadblock initially when voters, particularly the zamindars and the dominant Rajputs, began questioning his "high-flying" life-style and started talking about teaching him a lesson in humility and service this time. The Yadav voters appeared undecided, but the RJD supremo's nomination from Chapra changed that. With Mr. Yadav's entry into the fray, Mr. Rudy's "follies'' and "abrasiveness'' are being overlooked. It is a question of Rajput pride now and the upper castes are uniting behind Mr. Rudy.

"The so-called Muslim-Yadav (MY) factor in favour of Laloo Prasad Yadav is not going to work; it has weakened over the recent years. People want progress and development. Laloo Prasad Yadav will get the shock of his life,'' Mr. Rudy said. The BJP minister fears booth capturing and intimidation of voters might occur in the constituency and has demanded the deployment of more Central forces in the constituency to ensure free, fair and peaceful polling. Touring the constituency, Mr. Rudy has been telling the voters about his deep-rooted, permanent commitment to the people here. "I was born in Amnaur village and Chapra is my "karmabhoomi" (work place). I am going to live and die here,'' he says trying to drive home the point in chaste Bhojpuri.

The local caste equations are discussed threadbare whenever people gather to talk about the elections. The dominant castes here are the Rajputs (3 lakh) and the Yadavs (3.5 lakh). There are also 2 lakh Dalits, 1.25 lakh upper castes, 80,000 Muslims and 80,000 Kurmis. Clearly, Mr. Rudy is banking upon the Rajputs, the upper castes and the Kurmis and hoping for a division in the Muslim and Yadav votes.

If posters and buntings of the Laloo-Rabri duo and the `lantern' election symbol of the RJD hang in profusion in the villages along the Chapra-Revaghat road and in the town as well, cut outs of Mr. Rudy and the Prime Minister have also been put up by the Rudy camp. While Mr. Yadav had begun his career in electoral politics from Chapra in 1977, Mr. Rudy had won the seat in 1996, lost it in 1998 and again bagged it in the 1999 polls.

Of the six Assembly segments — Taraiya, Marhaura, Chapra, Garkha, Parsa and Sonepur — five are with the RJD; the exception is Sonepur, from where the BJP had won in the 2000 Bihar Assembly elections. Harendra Singh, a Rajput, working for the RJD, says there is no need for Mr. Yadav to worry as all the five party MLAs have been made responsible for the electioneering. The RJD posters, plastered in the old Chapra town, compares the price rise in essential items like kerosene, fertiliser and diesel in a bid to punch holes in the BJP's "feel good'' factor. "Jan, jan ki pukar, Rudy phir ek baar'' (People want Rudy once more) and "BJP ka hai sandesh, Mahashakti ho Bharat desh'' (BJP's motto is to make India a superpower) are some the slogans made popular by the Rudy camp.

"It will be an interesting electoral tussle to watch. You may find Yadavs working for Mr. Rudy and Rajputs working for Mr. Yadav,'' says Prof. Lalbabu Yadav who teaches political science at the local Rajendra college. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has also thrown its hat in the ring with its candidate Abhay Raj Kishore Rai hoping to muster the support of the Dalits, the poor and the minorities. In the 1999 polls, Mr. Rudy had bagged 50.71 per cent of the total votes polled while the RJD's Hira Lal Rai, a former principal of Rajendra College, had secured 45.05 per cent votes.

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