Ravi Shankar Prasad’s first election and Shatrughan Sinha’s third outing for the Lok Sabha have made the election for the Patna Sahib seat absorbing. The Union Minister has always been a Member of the Rajya Sabha while Sinha has spent two terms in the Rajya Sabha and has represented Patna Sahib in the Lok Sabha twice.
Both were in the BJP till recently though Sinha has been targeting the ‘ one man government and two men army’, as he described the Modi Government and the BJP, for the past several years. His expulsion from the BJP had seemed imminent every time he fired yet another salvo but the party bosses had clearly concluded that expelling him would be even more damaging. They preferred Sinha pissing at them inside the tent rather than from inside.
But once he joined the Congress after the election was announced and it became clear that he was keen to seek re-election for the third time, BJP changed its mind to field the son of party faithful and Rajya Sabha member R.K. Sinha, who is from Patna and runs a hugely successful security agency across India and who had declared a personal wealth worth Rupees 800 Crore. Prasad, who is more comfortable delivering a harangue on camera, was asked to get ready for the poll.
Conventional wisdom holds that this particular constituency cannot be won without the sizeable support of the Kayasthas, who are said to number around seven lakh. The two Sinhas and Prasad hailing from the same caste and the same city, the community enjoyed considerable clout in New Delhi. And some Kayasthas seemed to feel that with both Ravi Shankar Prasad and R.K. Sinha in the Rajya Sabha, it made sense to support Shatrughan Sinha for the Lok Sabha. Then there would be three Kayasthas from Patna in Parliament.
In any case, Prasad’s Rajya Sabha term ends only after five more years. But if he wins his maiden seat in the Lok Sabha, Kayasth representation from Patna in Parliament would shrink to two.
But in 2019 every seat counts and BJP would hate to lose the seat. On paper, it is invincible. It had won five of the six assembly constituencies of Patna Sahib in 2015 when the BJP was reduced to a total tally of 57 in the House of 240. Only the predominantly rural constituency of Fatuha had then voted for RJD while the remaining five reposed their faith in the BJP. Is there a strong enough reason for voters in Kumhrar, Bankipur, Digha, Bakhtiarpur and Patna Saheb to vote against BJP this time?
Besides facing anti-incumbency for his two terms as MP, Shatrughan Sinha has other odds to overcome. After having banked on the BJP and RSS workers since 2009, he had to build his poll machinery from scratch. Even when he was MP, he spent very little time in the constituency and may not have been as accessible to people as they might have expected. Besides, he has not helped his cause by allowing his wife to contest from Lucknow as a Samajwadi Party candidate and declaring there that BSP chief Mayawati was ‘Prime Minister material’. It did not go down well with some of the traditional anti-BJP voters in the constituency.
Samir Kumar Singh, working president of Bihar Congress, however appears confident and claims that Sinha’s appeal cuts across party lines. “He has a national appeal and had raised his voice against the persecution of Biharis in Mumbai and elsewhere. A section of the BJP cadre too have rallied in Sinha’s support,” he asserted. Sinha also enjoys the support of RJD sympathisers, he added, because of his outspoken support to Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Caste considerations are in play, says Suresh Pandit, a retired manager of the Coir Board and resident of Digha. A large segment of weaker sections were favourably inclined to the Mahagathbandhan (or GA), of which Congress is a part, he says. But in his own Hathwa Enclave Colony, he added, NDA supporters outnumbered sympathisers of the Grand Alliance.
Ajit Kumar Munna, who runs a photo copier shop and doubles up as a general insurance agent in Mahatma Gandhi Nagar area, says GST has been a pain for traders, though he himself is within the exemption limit. “Entry of big business into retail sector has played havoc with small traders. The talk of ease of doing business is fine, but the interest rate on bank loans should be brought down and subsidy should be given to boost entrepreneurship,” he says.
Ravi Shankar Prasad started his campaign early, several weeks before Sinha. And being a prominent face in the Modi Government and his long association with chief minister Nitish Kumar work in his favour. His father has had a long association with the RSS and therefore he can depend on the network of the BJP and RSS.
If there is anything that is working against him, quips a BJP worker in lighter vein, it is Prasad’s stern face, short temper and his lack of connect with the people.