As many as four Union ministers are among the 157 candidates in Bihar whose electoral fortunes will be decided on Sunday in the final phase of general elections.
About 1.52 crore voters will exercise their franchise in the eight Lok Sabha constituencies – Patna Sahib, Pataliputra, Arrah, Buxar, Karakat, Sasaram, Nalanda and Jehanabad – at 15,811 booths, according to figures made available by the Election Commission.
Seven of these seats were won by the NDA last time, five by the BJP and two by the RLSP, which is now with the “Mahagathbandhan”.
One was bagged by the JD(U) headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, which then fought separately but is now back with the NDA.
By-poll will also be held for the Dehri Assembly seat, which fell vacant last year upon the disqualification of RJD MLA and former state minister Mohd Ilyas Husain, who was convicted in the bitumen scam by a Ranchi court.
The most keenly-watched contest is in Patna Sahib where Ravi Shankar Prasad, one of the most prominent members of the Narendra Modi cabinet, is seeking entry into the Lok Sabha. The BJP has won the seat in both the elections that have taken place since it came into being after the 2008 delimitation.
However, Prasad faces the challenge of retaining the seat for his party by defeating Shatrughan Sinha – the actor-turned-politician, who won it on both occasions and is now in the fray as the Congress candidate.
The neighbouring Pataliputra has become a prestige issue for the family of RJD supremo Lalu Prasad, which has contested the seat twice, losing on both occasions to his former loyalists.
While Prasad himself lost to JD(U)’s Ranjan Yadav, his daughter Misa Bharti was defeated by Ram Kripal Yadav, who fought on a BJP ticket and became a Union minister. Bharti is once again in the fray against Yadav.
Arrah is witnessing a battle of ideological extremes as Union minister RK Singh, an IAS officer, who retired as the Union Home secretary before joining the BJP and making electoral debut five years ago, seeks to retain the seat overcoming the challenge posed by Raju Yadav of the CPI(ML).
Yadav’s prospects have been boosted with the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan supporting his candidature and the ultra-Left party has reciprocated the gesture by supporting Misa Bharti in Pataliputra.
In Buxar, Union minister Ashwini Kumar Choubey’s bid to retain the seat for the second consecutive term has been challenged by veteran RJD leader Jagadanand Singh, who has represented the Lok Sabha constituency formerly and, unlike the incumbent, who hails from Bhagalpur, is seen as a “local”.
Karakat is where RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha made a successful Lok Sabha debut five years ago as an NDA ally and went on to become a Union minister only to part ways in December last year when he joined the Mahagathbandhan.
His bid to retain the seat faces a stiff challenge from JD(U)’s Mahabali Singh, who finished third last time but was the winner in 2009 when his party was with the NDA.
Former Lok Sabha Speaker and veteran Congress leader Meira Kumar is in the fray from Sasaram, which she had represented two times on the trot before losing to BJP’s Chhedi Paswan in 2014.
Paswan, who had formerly been the MP from the seat in 1989 and 1991 on Janata Dal ticket, has once again been fielded by his party. Kumar’s father, former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram, had represented the reserved seat several times, mostly on Congress ticket and twice as Janata Party’s candidate.
In Nalanda, second term JD(U) MP Kaushalendra Kumar – a confidant of the Chief Minister, who retained the seat for the party in 2014 surmounting the Modi wave – is once again in the fray.
His bid has been challenged by Ashok Kumar Azad Chandravanshi, who has been fielded by Hindustani Awam Morcha of Jitan Ram Manjhi – a former Chief Minister, who floated his own outfit after quitting the JD(U), started off as an NDA partner but ended up with the Mahagathbandhan.
Jehanabad was won by RLSP’s Arun Kumar, but he was expelled by the party and went on float his own outfit which neither the NDA nor the Mahagathbandhan agreed to back. His bid to retain the seat is meeting with a two-pronged challenge from RJD’s Surendra Yadav – an MLA from the adjoining district of Gaya, who has been notorious for his strong-arm style of politics – and JD(U)’s Chandreshwar Prasad Yaduvanshi.
Another notable candidate in Jehanabad is Angesh Kumar – a rebel candidate initially backed by Lalu Prasad’s disgruntled elder son Tej Pratap Yadav, who later pulled back in the larger interest of his father’s party.