Patna: Battle honours were shared equally in the Bihar bypolls on Sunday, with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retaining Mokama and Gopalganj constituencies.
While the bypoll results looked like a draw in the first electoral test of strength between the BJP and the Mahagathbandhan after Nitish Kumar switched sides in August, both ruling and opposition alliances claimed victory.
In Gopalganj which is with the BJP since 2005, RJD candidate Mohan Prasad Gupta gave a tough fight despite Sadhu Yadav’s wife Indira, a BSP candidate, and the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) ate into its core votebank among Yadavs and Muslims. But for the BSP and the AIMIM, the RJD would have defeated the BJP.
In Mokama, the RJD’s victory margin was reduced as the BJP had fielded another bahubali’s wife to take on jailed don Anant Singh’s wife Neelam Devi. The BJP leadership had fielded Sonam Devi a day after her husband Lalan Singh joined the party. The BJP also had roped in another bahubali Surajbhan Singh as well as Chirag Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) to campaign for its candidate Sonam Devi.
Nevertheless, the BJP sought to claim moral victory as it was pitted alone against the Grand Alliance of eight political parties.
“The results in both the seats shows that while we almost retained our votes in Gopalganj [a 3 per cent drop compared to the 2020 assembly polls] and increased our votes in Mokama. That means that the JDU core votes consisting of Luv Kush and EBCs have left Nitish Kumar,” former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi told ThePrint.
After the results were announced, the BJP targeted Nitish instead of the RJD which contested the polls in the name of the Grand Alliance.
“I would thank the people for sending a strong message to the Grand Alliance that they have been rejected. We got the highest votes in Mokama despite contesting there after 27 years. In the future, our performance will be better,” BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal told ThePrint.
Senior BJP leader Sanjay Jaiswal pointed out that the RJD votes went down by about 2,000 votes. “This means that there is no vote in the name of Nitish Kumar and that this victory is that of Anant Singh and not the Grand Alliance,” the Member of Legislative Council (MLC) remarked.
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Ruling parties claim upper hand
Both the Janata Dal (United) and the RJD claimed that the BJP does not have any reason to celebrate.
“[BJP state chief] Sanjay Jaiswal does not know Bihar politics. The fact remains that the Grand Alliance won Mokama and almost won Gopalganj,” JD (U) national president Lallan Singh told ThePrint.
The JD(U) denied that Nitish’s popularity was on the wane. “In Gopalganj, RJD’s Mohan Gupta doubled the tally compared to the last assembly polls. On the other hand, the BJP votes dropped by about 7,000,” state JD(U) president Umesh Kushwaha told ThePrint.
In the 2020 Bihar polls, Sadhu Yadav, who contested on a BSP ticket, came second with over 40,000 votes at Gopalganj. The Congress candidate had got a little over 30,000 votes.
RJD spokesperson Shakti Yadav declared that the result was nothing to be discouraged about. “It is indicative that we are on the path of wiping out the BJP,” he told ThePrint.
Lalu Prasad’s party attributed the Goplganj defeat to the opposition put up by the widow of Mohd. Shahbuddin, who was the RJD MP four times from adjoining Siwan district.
In Mokama, the victory margin of Neelam Devi slumped from her husband’s over 36,000 in 2020 to just over 16,700 votes. Similarly, BJP’s Kusum Devi won merely by 2,183 votes in Gopalganj, as compared to the 36,000-plus margin of her late husband Subhash Singh in 2020.
“We managed to win despite several odds. Anant Singh is in jail, but his votes remain intact. In Gopalganj, we would have won if the AIMIM had not sliced more than 12,000 votes. Indira Devi [wife of Sadhu Yadav] took away almost 8,000 votes,” RJD spokesperson Mritunjay Tiwari said.
The main reason for the drop of victory margin was the direct fight between two sides. In Mokama, Neelam Devi managed to retain almost the same votes as her husband but her main opponent Sonam Devi managed to take her votes to over 63,000.
In Gopalganj, BJP’s votes slipped from 78,000 from 2020 to around 70,000 as the RJD tallied over 68,000 votes.
Intensely fought polls
It was a highly charged poll campaign with Bihar Deputy Chief Minister and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav doing a roadshow in both seats. While Nitish did not go to campaign, he later issued a video seeking votes for RJD candidates.
The BJP convinced Chiraj Paswan to campaign for its candidates on the last two days. Mokama was the focus of the BJP which had a list of 40 star campaigners, including Union ministers.
The result in Gopalganj came as a disappointment for the RJD as it happens to be the home district of party chief Lalu Prasad. The loss is bitter as it narrowly missed because of Lalu’s brother-in-law Sadhu Yadav.
Sadhu’s wife Indira Yadav sliced off more than 8,000 votes while AIMIM candidate Abdul Salam clinched 12,000-plus votes.
RJD sources indicated that the Shahabuddin family sent a message to their supporters to vote for any party except the RJD which it believes has betrayed after the death of the Siwan strongman in May last year.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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