BJP, RJD battle it out to wrest Darbhanga LS seat



The seat of Mithilanchal, visually represented by once majestic but today decaying fort of Darbhanga Maharaj, in Bihar is witnessing an interesting poll battle as most key political parties have replaced their known leaders with new faces.

The caste and religious factors dominate voting behaviour of over 1,495,000 Darbhanga voters, comprising 797,470 men and 697,976 women, candidates are reaching out to them with poll agenda and promises of their respective parties, virtually ignoring local issues. 

Though nine candidates are in the fray, the main battle is between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The changing equations within respective political parties and the choice of candidates have made things interesting in the run-up to the vote on on April 29. The Darbhanga Lok Sabha seat will go to polls in the fourth phase of voting in the state.

In 2014, BJP's Kirti Azad won the right to represent the seat in the 16th Lok Sabha by defeating RJD's Ali Ashraf Fatmi. The Janata Dal-United had named Sanjay Jha as candidate, making the battle triangular in the constituency dominated by Brahmin and Muslim electorate. 

While Kirti Azad, suspended for his anti-party activities by the BJP, has changed his party and seat -- he joined the Congress and is contesting Dhanbad Lok Sabha seat in Jharkhand -- Fatmi after being denied ticket by the RJD is contesting the neighbouring seat -- Madhubani -- as independent. And Sanjay Jha was sent to the Upper House of Parliament by the JD-U.

Since 1991, Fatmi and Azad have been representing Darbhanga in the Lok Sabha with the former accounting for four terms and latter three. In between, Fatmi travelled from the Janata Dal to the RJD, while Azad, a former cricketer stuck to the BJP.

In an attempt to make the contest triangular, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded Mohammad Mokhtar, a Muslim, which has a sizeable presence in the area.

To keep its hold on the parliamentary constituency (Azad had won the seat for the saffron party thrice), the BJP has put the bet on former MLA Gopal Jee Thakur. The RJD has nominated sitting legislator Abdul Bari Siddique to contest the seat. 

Both the BJP and the RJD are striving to keep their grip on Dharbhanga. While the BJP considers the seat its stronghold and have deployed adequate resources, the RJD is leaving no stone unturned to reclaim its traditional base in the region. 

While the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan is banking on Muslim-Yadav votes, the BJP is hoping to sail through on the back of its own support base among upper castes as well as voters loyal to the JD-U and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). The three parties are in alliance in the state. Voters belonging to the Other Backward Class may also play a vital role in determining the poll outcome, say local political pundits. 

The Lok Sabha seat consists of Darbhanga, Darbhanga rural, Bahadurpur, Benipur, Ali Nagar and Gaura Bauram Assembly constituencies. Both the BJP and the RJD account for three seats each in the Assembly.

Pointing to absence of local issues in the political discourse during elections, Darbhanga-based journalist Sanjiv Kumar said floods, unemployment, lack of proper transport facilities were the key issues affecting the people and the area. None of the candidates or the star campaigners were raising these issues, lamented Kumar. 

According to Vimleshwar Jha, a local resident and professor at Vinoba Bhave University in Jharkhand, mobilisation of Brahman, OBC and Yadav votes could play major role in deciding the poll results. The political parties were focussing on them as per their own internal equations and expectations, Jha said.