The two parliamentary constituencies of Bhagalpur and Banka, which go to poll on April 24, are in several ways distinct from each other, yet ever since 1989 communal riots they have often been clubbed together, while analyzing election trend. Some of the villages which were rocked by the riots were in the then Banka sub-division, which was elevated to the status of district on February 21, 1991 by the then Lalu government.
In the election held in the aftermath of communal violence of Oct-Nov 1989 neither the Congress nor the BJP––the two main players blamed for the riots––won. Both the seats were won by the then newly formed Janata Dal of V P Singh. While Chunchun Yadav won from Bhagalpur in 1989, 1991 and 1996, Pratap Singh won from Banka both in 1989 as well as in 1991.
While Bhagalpur seat is more communally sensitive as it has about 18 per cent Muslim voters (2,92,949 out of total 16,27,497), in Banka the caste divide is more visible. Since 1980 till now––barring one––all the MPs belonged to Rajput castes. It was only in 1996 and 2004 that Giridhari Yadav won on the Janata Dal and Rashtriya Janata Dal tickets. He is now a JD(U) MLA.
Both Banka and Bhagalpur are known for fertile land. Rivers like Chandan, Orhni and Jamua Jor flow from south to north while Ganga in the north of Bhagalpur makes a large chunk of land very productive. Apart from foodgrains production, such as rice, the land is rich for mango also.
The NTPC has a power plant at Kahalgaon in Bhagalpur while another one is to come up near Katoria in Banka. Another plant is likely to come up in Pirpainti in Bhagalpur.
In Banka work in the power plant of Manoj Jayaswal’s Abhijeet Group has stopped because of the coalgate scam. A solar power plant has also been proposed in Banka.
If all these plants really start generating power the two parliamentary constitucies would certainly become the power-house of Bihar.
Banka has the distinction of electing not just a Bihari, but outsider too. Veteran Socialist leader from Maharashtra, Madhu Limaye, got elected from here twice: first in 1962 and again in 1977 on Janata Party ticket.
This time the contest is heading for an exciting finish between the sitting MP, Putul Kumari, widow of former Union minister Late Digvijay Singh, and another former minister Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav. In 2009 Digvijay as an Independent defeated him. As Digvijay did not get Janata Dal (United) ticket as he revolted against Nitish Kumar he contested as an Independent candidate and won.
As he died in 2010 his wife contested election as an Independent and won. But on the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha election she deemed it fit to cross over to the BJP.
While Putul is banking on the NaMo factor as well as Rajput votes, incumbency factor is loaded against her.
On the other hand Jai Prakash is hoping to get Yadav and Muslim votes, though it is also a fact that the CPI, the ally of the Janata Dal (United) in Banka, has fielded Sanjay Kumar, a Yadav.
Besides, the local MLA of RJD, Jawaid Eqbal Ansari, switched over to the JD(U) in February last. But local people say that after the Akhtar-ul-Iman episode in Kishanganj (both of them left RJD together with Samrat Chaudhary and Raghvendra Pratap Singh) there is hardly any likelihood of Jawaid influencing the 13 per cent Muslim voters––1,92,998 out of total 14,84,599.
As the CPI is no more a major party in the state and JD(U) is not contesting, the ruling party workers are not very much visible in the constituency. The Mahadalit and EBC votes are up for grab between the BJP and RJD candidates.
Similarly, Bhagalpur has the rare distinction of electing a Muslim MP of the BJP from the constituency where the community is not in majority. Before that he had won from the Muslim-dominated Kishanganj.
Earlier, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi of the BJP won from Muslim-dominated Rampur constituency in UP in 1998.
So unlike Naqvi, who won only once, Shahnawaz won from Kishanganj as well as Bhagalpur. But this time he is fighting with his back to the wall. He is pinning his hope on the presence of the Janata Dal (United) candidate, Abu Qaiser, who may walk away with some votes of the community.
But if the present trend continues than the RJD’s Golu Mandal, a Gangota, is expected to get maximum votes of Muslims. He is also hoping to get the votes of his castemen as well as that of Yadavs, with whom Gangotas have not a very good relationship.
Though at the time of 1989 riots many Muslims blamed Gangotas for their role today this seems to be a close chapter as Muslims feel Golu is a much better candidate to stall the progress of NaMo.
Though Abu Qaiser, an RJD man who was wooed by the JD(U) only last month, is not in the race he can work as a spoiler for both the candidates.
Bhagalpur has Brahmin, Bhumihar, Rajput, Koeri and trading community votes. But then Kahalgaon has a sizeable Kurmi population and the JD(U) candidate is looking forward for their votes.
But as Golu Mandal is from EBC the JD(U) may not get much of the votes of this section. The JD(U) can bank heavily on Mahadalit votes.
After the construction of bridge over river Ganga in 1990s Bhagalpur has faced influx of population from its northern part––Naugachia––and other adjoining districts. Traffic congestion has increased though roads and fly-overs have been built.
But as the election is being fought on NaMo factor all the issues––supply of electricity, challenge before the silk industry, problems of weavers, irrigation, Bhagalpur riots probe etc––have been swept under the carpet.