Will Vaishali finally throw up a surprise?

Five-term MP Raghuvansh of RJD faces tough battle

ajay

Ajay Singh | March 25, 2014




Arthur Dunkel, the architect of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), would have hardly known Bihar and its charismatic leader Lalu Prasad Yadav. In the nineties, he was a household name in Vaishali district as Lalu made a villain out of the former director general of the general agreement on trade and tariff (GATT) whose daft, known as "Dunkel draft", laid the foundation of the WTO.

"You know Dunkel has arrived and would change the way agriculture is done in this state," Lalu would say, adding that tomato and brinjal would be ten times bigger but would have cow dung inside. His exposition on the WTO to a bemused rural audience was calculated to scare farmers from the Congress which had unleashed economic reforms under the leadership of the then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao and his finance minister Manmohan Singh. Lalu was then playing the role of an adversary to the Congress. But the role has reversed now.

The popularity – or notoriety – of Dunkel in Vaishali in the nineties underlined one fact that agriculture and rural development always played an important role in determining the political conduct of the voters in this predominantly agrarian constituency. This is why Lalu has once again chosen affable Rajput leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh as the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate from here. He has been representing the constituency since 1996 without a break.

Singh is known as an earthy leader who is always rooted to the ground. His term as the rural development minister in the UPA I was considered to be the best phase of the ministry in terms of performance. This is very much evident all over the constituency where smooth roads are connecting the rural areas with the district headquarters.

Of late Vaishali has registered a sharp growth in the agriculture sector with private banks and some NGOs playing a key role in giving a fillip to the economy. Private banks like HDFC Bank are introducing the business correspondent model to include farmers in the formal economy. Similarly a group of technocrats has floated an organization called Farms and Farmers' Foundation to educate people about modern farming and enhance the high yield. "In the past one decade, Vaishali has transformed beyond recognition," said Sanjay Kumar, who heads the foundation's nodal office in Vaishali.

But the beautiful script of Vaishali is running the risk of going astray in this election. Raghuvansh Babu is pitted against a powerful muscleman from the same Rajput caste, Rama Kishore Singh from the BJP-LJP combine. Given the fact that BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has captured the imagination of a substantial section of upper castes and OBCs, Raghuvansh Prasad has been facing his toughest battle.

On March 23 he was evicted from the circuit house of Vaishali in accordance with the model code of conduct. “I am least bothered about such difficulties as my connection with people is a regular and not a sporadic affair,” Singh told me confidently on phone. But what is the cause of worry for him is the fact that the JD(U) has put up Vijay Sahni, a formidable leader from the Mallah community, who will chip away his votes from the most backward classes (MBCs).

Vaishali is known for springing surprises. When Lalu tried to use Dunkel's name to get political mileage in by-election in 1994, Vaishali threw up a model of upper caste consolidation against his tyranny. Lovely Anand, wife of dreaded ganglord Anand Mohan, won that election. That model could not sustain for long as social underdogs finally reasserted themselves in keeping with the historical democratic tradition of Vaishali which established the world's first ‘republic’ in ancient times. In the ongoing political discourse, this history does not seem to have any relevance as casteism, corruption and criminals seem to be setting the agenda. In such a setting, leaders like Raghuvansh Prasad Singh are up against a difficult time.

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