Lalu versus Nitish BIG FIGHT..Bihar bypolls tomorrow

Araria, March 10: By-poll in the Araria Lok Sabha constituency on Sunday will be a test for the ruling JD(U)-BJP combine in Bihar as well as the opposition RJD-Congress alliance, ahead of the big battle in the general elections due next year.

By-election was necessitated by the death of Mohd Taslimuddin of the the RJD. Though seven candidates are in the fray at Araria, the contest is mainly between RJD's Sarafaraz Alam, Taslimuddin's son, and the BJP's Pradip Singh who had won the seat in 2009 and finished runner-up in 2014. At that time, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's JD(U) had fought separately and finished third.

"I am confident of victory this time. My defeat in 2014 was not a result of Taslimuddin's popularity. We suffered as votes of the Mahadalits and the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) had split between the BJP and the JD(U)," Singh said.

The total number of votes polled by the BJP and the JD(U) much more than what Taslimuddin had got, he said.

"Hence, there is no reason for worry. We are making efforts only to ensure a big margin," Singh told PTI.

The RJD, however, is not ready to concede saying it now has Mahadalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi as an ally.

"Two plus two is not always four in politics. The JD(U) and the BJP may have come together again, but it would be hard for them to revive their old electoral chemistry," RJD vice-president Shivanand Tiwary said.

"Nitish Kumar has lost his sway among the Mahadalits because of the ill-treatment meted out to leaders like former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi who is now with us," he said.

Manjhi's Hindustani Awami Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) has cut his ties with the NDA and joined the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led Grand Alliance on February 28.

Manjhi, former chief minister, left the NDA claiming that 'faulty' sand mining policy of the Nitish Kumar government had stalled construction activities, thereby badly hit workers from the Mahadalit section and EBCs.

"They may not support the JD(U)-BJP combine. Besides, there is perceptible anger among all sections of the society over the betrayal of public mandate of which the JD(U) and the BJP are equally guilty," Tiwary said.

As far as caste equations go, he said, out of the six Assembly segments in Araria, four have a high concentration of either the Yadavs or the Muslims, both of whom have been traditional RJD voters.

"It is likely that they would be with us more firmly as they are angry over the harassment of Lalu Prasad and his family in the name of corruption cases," Tiwary said.

"We, however, are afraid that the BJP may indulge in its old strategy of polarization along communal lines. A memorandum expressing this apprehension was submitted by us to the Election Commission last week," he said.

Singh, however, claimed that RJD's Sarfaraz Alam has been a controversial character and never been very popular with the Muslims.

"Even if the minority community people do not vote for us, they are unlikely to fully back the RJD. We are going to slice a bit of the Yadav votes," he said.

By-polls will also be held for Bhabhua and Jahanabad assembly segments along with Araria parliamentary constituency on March 11.