The hands he had held once are now raising against him but RJD supremo Lalu Prasad seems unruffled about the battle against friends-turned-foes Ranjan Prasad Yadav of the JD(U) and Congress nominee Vijay Singh Yadav from Pataliputra.
"I relied on him (Ranjan) but he betrayed my trust. I gave him the charge to improve the face of universities and higher educational institutions but he was a miserable failure.... Ranjan will be politically destroyed," Lalu said. Ranjan, a retired reader at Patna Science College, was once considered an alter ego of Lalu who had sent him to the Rajya Sabha twice in 1990 and 1996.
But Ranjan quit the RJD in 1998 after he had failed to persuade Lalu to replace Rabri Devi with him as the Chief Minister. The former RJD leader joined the LJP but again switched loyalty to JD(U) after its chief Ramvilas Paswan and Lalu joined hands for the polls. Similarly, current Congress contender Vijay Singh Yadav was elected to the Rajya Sabha because of Lalu's support.
Now a staunch critic of the RJD strongman, Ranjan is banking on development work of Nitish Kumar, making the polls seem a contest between Kumar and Lalu. But the RJD chief is unperturbed in the run-up to election on May 7. "This (the propaganda that voters are impressed with Kumar's development work) is nothing but a political conspiracy to influence voters," he said, asserting that the RJD-LJP-SP alliance would sweep the polls.
Nevertheless, Lalu is campaigning here vigourously and is addressing as many as 11-12 meetings a day. However, Ranjan feels he would dent Lalu's support base of Yadava and minority voters apart from getting support of an overwhelming majority of upper castes which has been voting for the NDA since the 1990s when reservation for the socially weaker sections was dramatically hiked.
On his part, Nitish Kumar too seems to be serious about a victory of the party's candidate here as he is touring every nook and cranny of the constituency, where the contest is expected to witness a photo-finish. On his campaign trail, the Chief Minister described Lalu, who was invited by B-schools abroad to deliver lectures on the turnaround of Indian Railways, as a "mismanagement guru" and asked the people to "bolt the gates to keep Lalu out of Parliament for a better Bihar under NDA".
Congress' Vijay Singh Yadav, the once self-styled lieutenant of Lalu, is desperately trying to make the contest a triangular one. He claims sizeable support from his community. Besides, he feels Muslims and upper castes too have veered towards his party after it broke ties with RJD-LJP.
There are 16 candidates in fray in Pataliputra. Pataliputra is a predominantly rural constituency, formed by redrawing the erstwhile Patna Lok Sabha seat. Of 15.26 lakh voters in the constituency, Yadavas account for over 5.5 lakh, followed by Bhumihars (about 2.5 lakh), Muslims (1.5 lakh), Vaishyas (around 3 lakh) and Brahmins (one lakh).