In 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had almost camped in Purnia to ensure the victory of JD(U) candidate Santosh Kushwaha against BJP nominee Uday Singh, also known as Pappu Singh, in a three-way contest that was fought on the "backward and forward template". This time too, Kushwaha is the NDA candidate against the same opponent, who is now a Congress candidate. And once again, Nitish Kumar is focused on Purnia in this prestige battle against Uday Singh, who had taken on the Bihar CM’s governance model even when he was part of the NDA. Nitish seems to have made it a personal battle with Singh, who is the younger brother of Finance Commission chairperson and former JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP NK Singh.
Uday Singh, while addressing a public meeting in Banmankhi in presence of former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, said: "How can this battle be against Narendra Modi? After all, Modi is not contesting from Purnia. I alone will solve your local issues".
Singh knows "Modi factor" that otherwise did not work in 2014 polls could come in his way. Or else, the social combination looks in his favour with Muslim-Yadav votes alone accounting for almost 35 per cent of votes. Singh has been also meticulously attempting to split Nitish Kumar’s base votes of EBC and Mahadalits.
Former CM Manjhi invoked Dalit pride in a constituency having sizeable Scheduled Caste Mushahar population, known as Rishidev in this belt. Manjhi played up his ouster from CM chair in 2015 barely nine months after he was given the chair. "Since I had been working for the welfare of Dalits and the poor, I was removed. This needs to be avenged. You can do it only by voting for Congress", said Manjhi amidst cheers. A few metres away, Ramanand Rishidev, a driver, said how they looked up to Manjhi as their leader and would listen to him.
Santosh Kushwaha, once his protege, seems to be fighting anti-incumbency and charges of not moving around his constituency. His social arithmetic hinges on support of his own caste votes, which are about two lakh, mostly in Koda Assembly segment, and conversion of BJP votes to him because of "Narendra Modi factor". A JD(U) worker explained: "We are up against a solid combination of Muslim, Yadav and other chunk of votes for Congress. But we are banking on the support of our local MLA Bima Bharati who can get us EBC Mandal votes from Rupauli and Dhamdaha MLA Lesi Singh getting us upper caste Bhumihar votes (about 70,000). But the decider could be over two lakh upper caste Brahmin votes, which look pided between NDA and Congress".
Ravichandra Tiwary, a Dhamdaha resident, said Congress votes had almost gone to Congress candidate Amarnath Tewary last time. "But this time, it looks pided. While Santosh Kushwaha is taken as representative of Narendra Modi, Uday Singh, being two-time MP, has held over us as well. Brahmin votes could have tilted more in NDA favour if there was any rally of PM".
Shanker Singh of Chandwa village under Koda Assembly said: "It is MYBR (Muslim, Yadav, Brahmin and Rajputs) factor working in favour of Uday Singh. He has been also getting the advantage of EBC and Dalit factors. Now that he is Grand Alliance candidate, he starts with base votes of Muslim and Yadavs and will top it up. There cannot be backward-forward template now," said Singh. His fellow villager Raghav Singh added that most Rajputs had rallied around Singh because of his "image", not because he is a Congress nominee.
Rajesh Kushwaha from Koda said though Santosh Kushwaha did enjoy the overwhelming support of his caste, he needed to reach out to other sections. "We know the CM has put his weight behind him but the situation is tough this time," said Kushwaha.
Purnia and Nalanda were the only two seats won by JD (U) in 2014 polls.
Purnia Lok Sabha has Assembly segments of Kasba, Banmankhi, Purnia, Koda, Rupauli and Dhamdaha. Uday Singh, as BJP nominee, had won the seat in 2004 and 2009 polls.