Prestige battle for Nitish Kumar in third phase of Bihar polls (Poll Curtainraiser - Bihar)

April 29th, 2009 - 3:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Ram Vilas Paswan Patna, April 29 (IANS) Bihar conducts the third and penultimate phase of Lok Sabha elections Thursday with the prestige battle getting increasingly intense for Janata Dal-United (JD-U) Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, pitted against the combined might of Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan.
Eleven of the state’s 40 seats go to the polls with an electorate of 15 million eligible to choose their MPs from among 203 candidates, including 12 women.

Of the Thursday seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is contesting six and the JD-U five. They are allies.

And in this battle to prove who will emerge the strong man of Bihar - Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal) or Paswan (Lok Janshakti Party) - it will be crucial for the JD-U to assert its supremacy, said a party leader.

With several seats having large numbers of Muslim voters, Nitish Kumar is hoping to capitalise on the split in the Muslim support base of Lalu and Paswan by projecting himself as more secular and his government’s special initiatives for their development.

Three constituencies are considered pivotal for Nitish Kumar — Munger, Banka and Kishanganj.

In Munger, his confidant and second-in-command Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh is contesting.

In Banka, it is important for JD-U’s Damodar Rawat to defeat friend-turned-foe Digvijay Singh, an independent and a loyalist of ailing party patriarch George Fernandes who was denied a ticket.

And Kishanganj, which has elected BJP’s Shahnawaz Hussain, is crucial because Nitish Kumar forced BJP to leave it to JD-U to prove his support among Muslims. JD-U’s Syed Mahmud Ashraf is taking on RJD’s union minister Mohammad Taslimuddin in Kishanganj, with 67.7 percent Muslim voters.

All eyes are also on Bhagalpur, where the BJP’s Muslim face, Shahnawaz Hussain, is contesting from.

Equally important is Madhepura, also considered a stronghold of Lalu Prasad, where JD-U’s national president Sharad Yadav is fighting against RJD’s Ravindra Charan Yadav.

The Congress, which is fighting it alone, is trying hard to make its presence felt.

The RJD and the LJP are depending as always on their traditional caste base but it may be an uphill task given the new caste equation created by Nitish Kumar, who is wooing the Extreme Backward Caste (EBC) and Maha Dalits.

With the upper castes veering towards the BJP, the NDA hopes to have it all wrapped up.

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