BSP's move to field a candidate in the Yadav-Rajput-dominated Saran Lok Saha seat may queer the pitch for RJD boss Lalu Prasad, who is locked in a cliff-hanger with BJP leader R P Rudy in the constituency where caste equations have changed after delimitation.
The erstwhile Chapra Lok Sabha seat, dominated by Yadavas, has now been renamed Saran after delimitation with the Yadavas and Rajputs accounting for about 2.7 Lakh and 2.5 Lakh voters respectively in the electorate of 12.67 Lakh.
Besides, upper caste Bhumihars have around 75,000 votes, followed by Brahmins (55,000) and Kurmis and Koeris (60,000). Muslims comprise another 1.55 Lakh votes approximately.
As development and caste equations determine the outcome of elections in Bihar, often described as caste cauldron, Lalu is engaged in a neck-to-neck fight with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati fielding a strong local Muslim leader, Salim Parvez, who is making a determined bid to make inroads into RJD's Muslim votebank.
Political analysts believe that in the event of the BSP nominee cutting into a sizeable minority and dalit votes, it may not be an easy sail for Lalu. The presence of Independent Yadava MLA Lalbabu Rai from Marhaura, who is in the fray as Independent, will further make Lalu's task of retaining the seat difficult.
Lalu's profile has undergone a metamorphosis between 2004 and 2009. In the 2004 general elections he went to voters tainted with involvement in the fodder scam and often accused of letting loose a reign of terror during his party's rule for over 15 years.
But now he is credited with turning the Railways around and posting a profit of Rs 90,000 crore during his five-year stint at the Rail Bhavan.
"He has brought a number of projects in Saran like the coach wheel factory, diesel locomotive factory, coach repair workshop, rail-cum-road overbridge and network of railway lines are among the projects worth over 25,000 crore.
"He has also upgraded Chapra railway station into a model station," his election agent and advocate Bhola Prasad Rai told PTI.
"People of the constituency will vote for development and we have support from all sections of society, including upper castes," RJD's ex-MLA Yaduvanshi Yadav, one of Lalu's campaign managers, said.
"Why will the electors favour Rudy, who did nothing when he was a minister in the erstwhile A B Vajpayee government?" asks Yamuna Rai of village Sitalpur.
"In fact, the cultivators, particularly Rajputs, are angry as Rudy failed to keep his promise to work for re-opening of the sugarmill at Marhaura," another resident of Doriganj said.
Ruling out a possibility of division of Muslim votes due to the presence of BSP candidate, Baglul Mobin, RJD's Saran district chief and a close confidante of Lalu, said, "They are aware of the BSP's plan to indirectly benefit the saffron party's nominee and thus will vote en-bloc for Laluji."
Rudy too is no less confident about achieving his long-cherished dream to defeat a leader of the stature of Lalu. He seems to be heavily banking on the development work being carried out by the NDA government led by Nitish Kumar in Bihar.
"The roads in Saran which were dilapidated and full of potholes are now pliable. New schools and community centres have come up and all-round development is seen," he asserted and ridiculed Lalu's claim of bringing several railway projects in the constituency.
"Please show me a single rail project which has become operational in Saran. Lalu has only laid foundation stones for the projects he claimed to have brought," Rudy, BJP's national spokesman said.
However, sources in the NDA, pleading anonymity, said intra-NDA squabbles may adversely affect Rudy's bid for victory following the denial of BJP ticket to Janardan Singh Sigiriwal, a Rajput leader and former member of the Nitish Kumar cabinet, for the seat.
"Please show me a single rail project which has become operational in Saran. Lalu has only laid foundation stones for the projects he claimed to have brought," Rudy, BJP's national spokesman says.
He said that the projects would take shape and concretise only when a development-oriented NDA government came to power at the Centre.
Insiders in the NDA, pleading anonymity, confide that intra-NDA squabbles may adversely affect Rudy's bid for victory following the denial of BJP ticket to Janardan Singh Sigiriwal, a Rajput leader and former member of the Nitish Kumar cabinet, for the seat.
BSP's Salim Parvez brushes aside the allegations that he is contesting the elections to benefit the saffron party and hopes that the dalits, upper castes, Muslims and extremely backward classes will support his candidature as they want installation of a Mayawati-led government for establishing an equitable society.
Rudy also apprehends large-scale riggings allegedly by RJD activists, a repeat of 2004, when the election to Chapra seat was countermanded and repoll held.
Lalu Prasad had, however, emerged victorious by a margin of 60,443 votes polling 2,28,882 votes against Rudy's 1,68,459 votes.
Lalu represented the Chapra seat thrice in 1977, 1989 and 2004. In 2004, Lalu successfully contested the elections from Madhepura and Chapra, but decided to retain the latter, now renamed Saran, comprising Marhaura, Chapra, Garkha (sc), Parsa, Sonepur and Amnaur assembly segments.
Out of these segments, ruling JD-U has its sitting MLAS from Chapra and Parsa, while BJP'S Gan Chandra Manjhi represents Garkha.
RJDd's Ramanuj Prasad reperesents Sonepur while Lalbabu Rai, who is contesting as an Independent, represents Marhaura. Amnaur is a newly constituted assembly segment.
There are altogether 12 candidates trying their luck from the seat.
Around 12.67 Lakh electors will exercise their franchise at 1270 polling stations on April 16.