Polling underway for bypolls to two assembly seats in Bihar

Altogether 17 candidates are in the fray for the two seats, eight in Tarapur and nine in Kusheshwar Asthan

Polling is underway for Tarapur and Kusheshwar Asthan assembly seats in Bihar where by-elections have been necessitated by the deaths of sitting MLAs, both belonging to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U).

Altogether 17 candidates are in the fray for the two seats, eight in Tarapur and nine in Kusheshwar Asthan.

The JD(U)’s bid to retain these seats is being challenged by the RJD headed by Mr. Kumar’s arch rival Lalu Prasad.

The JD(U) has placed its bet on fresh faces in both seats. In Tarapur, which has fallen vacant upon Mewa Lal Chaudhary’s demise, the party has fielded Rajiv Kumar Singh while in the reserved Kusheshwar Asthan, debutant Awadh Bhushan Hazari seeks to retain for his party, the seat his father Shashi Bhushan Hazari had won three times in a row.

The RJD, which boasts of a formidable support base in the form of the Muslim-Yaadav (MY) combination, has made the battle harder for JD(U) with its deft play of the caste card in both seats.

In Tarapur, which has so far sent only Yadavs or Koeris to the assembly, the RJD has fielded Arun Sah, a Vaishya, seeking to win over a community that has traditionally been with the BJP and its allies.

The JD(U) has been sharing power with the BJP for more than a decade and a half. It started off as a senior partner in the coalition, but of late has ceded the upper hand to the saffron party which has emerged as a near hegemonic force in the Hindi heartland.

Similarly, in Kusheshwar Asthan the RJD has fielded Ganesh Bharti, who belongs to the Musahar community which aspires to get its due among the Dalits.

However, in both seats the Congress and the Chirag Paswan-headed faction of Lok Janshakti Party could play a decisive role if the contest between JD(U) and RJD turns out to be a close one.

The Congress, which has for long remained content as a subservient junior partner of the RJD in Bihar, decided to pull itself by its bootstraps after being humiliated by the domineering senior ally.

The RJD’s announcement of candidates for both seats, without taking into confidence the Congress which had contested Kusheshwar Asthan in assembly polls last year, proved to be the proverbial last straw.

The party has fielded Atirek Kumar, son of Ashok Ram who gave Shashi Bhushan Hazari a tough fight a year ago. In Tarapur, which the Congress had never intended to fight until the decision to call off the alliance, it has fielded Rajiv Kumar Mishra, a well-known social worker who had polled about 10,000 votes when he fought in the assembly polls as an Independent.

Another upper caste candidate in Tarapur is Kumar Chandan, a Rajput, who is contesting on the ticket of LJP (Ram Vilas) which Mr. Chirag heads.

For Mr. Chirag, the by-polls in both seats would be a test of his strength after the split in the party founded by his father of which a major chunk has rallied with his rebellious uncle and cousin, Pashupati Kumar Paras and Prince Raj respectively.

While Tarapur falls within Mr. Chirag’s own Jamui Lok Sabha constituency, Kusheshwar Asthan is a part of Samastipur which Prince Raj represents.

Mr. Chirag’s candidate in Kusheshwar Asthan —Anju Devi—is the only woman in the fray.

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