Congress warhorse faces BJP rebel in triangular contest

By his own admission, this is the last electoral battle for Sadanand Singh, a veteran Congressleader and eight-time legislator in Bihar. And he is not having it easy.

While locals here say Singh is popular, the grapevine has it that he did not want to contest this time. He wanted his son to be fielded but Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi vetoed the request.

So Singh finds himself locked in a triangular contest from Kahalgaon assembly constituency in Bhagalpur district, the joint candidate of the Grand Alliance that also includes the RJD and the Janata Dal-United.

Singh began his political journey by winning from Kahalgaon in 1969 when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister. He has contested 11 assembly polls, losing only thrice.

The Congress faces a tough challenge from BJP rebel and independent candidate Pawan Kumar Yadav and Niraj Kumar Mandal of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

Yadav was a strong contender for the BJP ticket here. But when the seat was allotted to LJP, he jumped into the fray as an independent, making the fight triangular.

For Singh, Yadav is the main threat because he has worked in the area for a long time. LJP's Mandal is widely seen as an outsider.

The Samajwadi Party has fielded Shobhakant Mandal, a three-time former legislator from the adjacent assembly constituency Pirpainti.

Besides the 15 percent Muslim votes, Singh, a Kurmi by caste, is banking on the Kurmi-Dhanuk community which constitutes nearly 20 percent of the voters or numbering about three lakh.

By various accounts, Singh appears to have an edge over his opponents as he also has the support of powerful Mandal leader Ajay Kumar Mandal, who, as JD-U candidate, defeated Singh in 2005 by over 13,000 votes.

Mandal himself is contesting from the adjacent constituency Nathnagar.

"Sadanand babu is an asset for Kahalgaon. He is above caste and creed and acceptable to all," Vasuki Mishra, a prominent astrologer, told IANS.

"He always remains active. He has been winning this seat for a record time due to his own personality and not because of the Congress," Mishra added.

Kahalgaon is located on the banks of the Ganga. But despite a National Thermal Power Project (NTPC), it has not seen much economic development.

The NH-80, which connects Kahalgaon to Bhagalpur, is in pathetic shape. Despite the NTPC, people of Kahalgaon don't get power from it as it does not come under its command area.

Complained 30-year-old Sanjeev Kumar Yadav: "Even after decades, the proposed Bhaina bridge over the Ganga has not been completed. There is no major hospital here too."

But he was clear that when people throng the polling centres, this would not bother them. Instead, they were likely to vote on caste lines or whoever gives them money.

"Neither (Narendra) Modi nor Nitish (Kumar), neither development nor 'jungle raj' is the issue in Kahalgaon."

Ratneshwar Prasad Singh, a retired professor of political science from S.S.V. College here, told IANS that while Singh had the edge, Nazni Naz, an independent Muslim woman candidate and a Zila Parishad member, could eat into his Muslim support base.

"This time the fight is triangular. BJP rebel Yadav is a strong candidate. Even LJP's Mandal is doing well," he added.

But Congress president Sonia Gandhi's October 3 rally here -- her first visit to the area -- didn't attract too many people. Many see it as a bad omen for Singh.

A Congress supporter told IANS that Sadanand Babu wanted the ticket for his son this time.

"But Rahulji told him (Singh) that either you or some party member will contest, not a family member," the source said.

Singh, who bagged 44,936 votes in 2010 defeating JD-U's Kahkashan Parveen, says he is fighting his last electoral battle.

Parveen is now a Rajya Sabha MP and, as part of the Grand Alliance, is camping in Kahalgaon in favour of Singh.

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