There’s no doubt that all attention will on Patna Sahib, a constituency that polled over half million votes in favour of Shatrughan Sinha in 2014.
Eight seats go to polls in Bihar on the seventh and final day of India’s general election on Sunday, May 19. No constituency has garnered as much attention and newspaper column space in the run up as Patna Sahib that covers six assembly segments including the eponymous Patna Sahib, the birthplace of the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh and seat of one of the five “Takhts” or seat of authority in Sikhism.
It is from this bustling capital city of Bihar that sends 40 elected members to the Lok Sabha – India’s lower house of parliament – that 80s Bollywood star, local boy and two-time MP Shatrughan ‘shotgun’ Sinha is aiming a re-election hat-trick. He will, of course, be fighting on an Indian National Congress ticket after jumping ships just last month and not before labelling Bharatiya Janata Party, his former party, a “one man show and two-man army”.
Up against him is Ravi Shankar Prasad, a first-time Lok Sabha MP hopeful who despite being vastly experienced – he started as a booth agent in 1971 before rising to the ranks of a Union minister – has never fought an election for a seat in the lower house and an electoral battle of this nature. Yet he has taken to the fight like a fish to water, say his close aides and observers in Patna.
Often called the ‘Thakur from Jaunpur’ in a highly cast conscious Bihar, Prasad, the current law and IT minister, is also a reputed lawyer, a Rajya Sabha MP, BJP’s national spokesperson, and one of the world’s 20 most influential leaders in digital and e-government. And most importantly for people in Patna Sahib – a constituency of more than 2 million people – he is at the right place at the right time. What could matter even more is that he is being seen as the man just in the ‘right mix’ – in a BJP – Janata Dal (United) alliance that’s sharing 34 seats in Bihar with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) fighting in six remaining seats.
JDU patriarch Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister, may not be contesting this election but he holds a definitive sway in a state that saw BJP notch up 22 seats in 2014. Kumar, who belongs to the kurmi caste, a traditionally farming clan, and is another favourite son of the soil, will lend his support to 17 seats that BJP is fighting for including Arrah, Buxar, Sasaram and the neighbouring Pataliputra that all go to polls on Sunday.
Sasaram, an SC reserved seat and part of Indian legacy as the site of Afghan Pashtun conqueror Shershah Suri’s tomb and the birthplace of Jagjivan Ram ‘Babu’, a lifelong activist for India’s oppressed and downtrodden, will see a key battle in its own right. The contest between Babuji’s daughter Meira Kumar, a two-time Congress MP from the same place and India’s first woman speaker of the Parliament and BJP’s Chhedi Paswan, the three-time incumbent MP is never over till it’s over. While Pataliputra is all set to witness an encore between BJP’s Ram Kripal Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Party (RJD)’s Misa Bharti, the daughter of her party’s founder and tainted former Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav. In 2014, Yadav, a former Lalu-aide, scraped past Bharti by little over 40,000 votes. After a rallying call on Wednesday in Paliganj by PM Narendra Modi, he hopes that he has the right lead to go to the parliament for a second straight time.
Come Sunday and Nitish Kumar’s own JDU party will be in three direct electoral fights, expecting his candidates to win all three of the 17 seats that remain to be contested – Nalanda, Jahanabad and Karakat where the fight is between JDU’s Mahabali Singh and Upendra Khushwaha, the founder of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP). Khushwaha, like Sinha, is a friend of the BJP-turned-foe and has his pull in his fiefdom. The barely six-year-old party that gave three crucial Bihar seats in 2014 to NDA is now part of Bihar’s grand alliance with five seats as Congress fighting in nine and old Bihar powerhouse RJD fighting in 19 seats.
Yet there’s no doubt that all attention will on Patna Sahib, a constituency that polled over half million votes in favour of Shatrughan Sinha in 2014 – around 55 per cent of the voter turnout and more than twice the 220,000 votes (around a quarter of the turnout) his nearest rival won.
However, it may not be as cut and dry this time for Sinha, who many say, may have done just too little too late to woo a constituency that was being seen as “ripe for a BJP backlash” with an estimated 350,000 Yadav and Muslims votes at stake. Will Shatru be able to successfully carve open that juicy vote bank in his favour or will the mandate go in favour of a Lok Sabha battle newbie, is the talk of the town in Patna which will go a long way in deciding who comes centre on May 23.