With campaign ending on Friday, the stage is set for the June 2 by-election in Bihar’s Maharajganj parliamentary constituency, which is more a face-off between Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his arch-rival and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad than between their candidates, as the contest comes in the backdrop of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

“It will send a message at the national level. This is a fight between Nitish and Lalu,” Nawal Kishore Chaudhary, professor at Patna University and political commentator, told The Hindu.

“If the JD(U) loses Maharajganj, people will see it as a vote against Nitish. It will put a question mark on his good governance and claim to a third term in Bihar. It also will put a question mark on his prime ministerial ambition, though he has been denying it. Lalu, on the other hand, is seeing it as a window of opportunity to send a message that he is the future,” said Prof. Chaudhary.

Mr. Kumar’s old aide and Education Minister Prashant Kumar Shahi is the NDA candidate in the constituency, which comprises six Assembly segments spread over Saran and Siwan districts. The JD(U) and the BJP are running a coalition government in the State.

The RJD chief has fielded Prabhunath Singh, a tall Rajput leader and three-time MP from the area. The Congress has put up Jitendra Swami, son of RJD MP Umashankar Singh, whose death caused the by-election.

The Maharajganj voter base is heavily dominated by Bhumihars and Rajputs. The choice of candidates confirmed the caste factor and belied the parties’ claim of development agenda. Mr. Shahi is a Bhumihar, and Mr. Singh and Mr. Swami are Rajputs.