Ara: RK Singh aims for record hat-trick, CPI-ML upbeat with allies’ support - Hindustan Times
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Ara: RK Singh aims for record hat-trick, CPI-ML upbeat with allies’ support

By, Patna
May 29, 2024 09:27 PM IST

Illegal sand mining in the dried-up Sone river bed near Ara poses environmental and economic concerns. The upcoming election in Ara features a battle between development promises and social justice issues.

Endless queues of sand-laden trucks moving at a snail’s pace and thousands of excavators, trucks, tractors, boats and labourers engaged round-the-clock in the dried-up Sone river bed, leaving behind ditches and big pits, to transport the mining booty from the huge dunes stocked all along the stretch could suggest a thriving economy.

Union minister RK Singh (HT file)
Union minister RK Singh (HT file)

But no, most of it is illegal. Mining officials admit it’s huge loss to the exchequer due to unbridled extraction. Environmentalists lament the plight of river Sone, a major tributary of the Ganga. For the poor, however, the thriving sand trade has not brought about any change in their fortunes.

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“We get a 200-300 from labour contractors for extracting and loading sand. The work goes on day and night. We earn our bread and we don’t know anything beyond that,” says Sudhir, a labourer, wiping his sweat with his a cotton towel in the blistering Sun at Sandesh, around 25 kms from Ara town.

Still, illegal mining, which locals blame on the well-known nexus between politicians and mafiosi, is also not a poll issue in Ara, where union minister RK Singh is trying for a hat-trick, first time anyone would do so in Ara, against the INDIA bloc candidate, Sudama Prasad of the CPI-ML, who is an MLA.

BJP leaders are dismissive of Sudama Prasad, calling him a naxalite, and rule out any challenge to RK Singh, the former IAS officer who has laso served as union home secretary.

There is, however, a clear divide between the urban and rural voters and equally contrasting political discourse. While Singh is banking on his development initiatives in the area in terms of flyovers, bridges, electricity and better rail connectivity, besides the welfare initiatives of the Narendra Modi government for the poor, Prasad is hammering the growing rich-poor divide.

However, despite an abundance of issues confronting Ara, the caste equation remains crucial as ever, as is the organisational ability of the two main contenders. The fight looks intense on the ground if poll campaigning is any indicator.

“This election has quietened all loudmouths, as people are fighting against the autocratic BJP. Narendra Modi thought winning election was just about rhetoric, but the people have started asking questions now and he has no answers. He talks about flyovers, expressways and escalator in Ara as sign of development, but people are asking about poverty and 90 lakh families living with an income of less than 6,000 a month in Bihar. He talks about five kg free ration, people ask about right to food. There is a big farmers’ movement across the country, including Ara. Youth are disenchanted over unemployment and there is anger against the BJP,” says CPI-ML general secretary Deepankar Bhattacharya, who vigorously campaigned for Sudama Prasad in Sandesh, Sagar and various other places.

CPI-ML traditionally has a strong base in Ara, though last time its candidate won from here was in 1989. In 2014, CPI-ML candidate Raju Yadav lost to Singh by nearly 1.50 lakh votes. Singh won by an almost similar margin against the RJD in 2014. This time, he faces the combined opposition. Of the seven Assembly seats in Ara Lok Sabha constituency, two are with the CPI-ML and three with the RJD.

“This time, CPI-ML hopes to benefit from nearly four lakh votes of Yadavs and Muslims, besides its traditional vote bank among the Dalits and EBCs. This is a fight for the freedom of the poor and there is a strong undercurrent. There is an internal fight between allies BJP and JD-U also,” says former MLA Bijendra Yadav, who left the JD-U just a day ago to throw his weight behind INDIA bloc.

BJP is, however, convinced that the development work in Ara and the performance of Narendra Modi government, both in terms of rapid progress and welfare initiatives for the poor, would once again make Singh the automatic choice of the people cutting across caste and creed. “He will create history in Ara by winning three times in a row. He is a politician who has delivered on all counts and that is visible in Ara after a long time. A medical college and an engineering college are also coming up. Under welfare schemes, people have got free ration, houses, Ayushman cards, gas cylinders, Kisan Samman Nidhi etc. I will give him 7 out of 10. He is a leader who has delivered,” says Sadanand Singh, a retired teacher.

For whatever reasons, PM Modi has not campaigned in Ara. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who has, dubbed the CPI-ML candidate a ‘naxalite’. “Imagine, Left has been wiped out in the entire world and here they have fielded a naxalite, which will pose a threat to security and usher in anarchy. RJD, which does not look beyond one family, is backing him. Just go through the manifesto of the opposition alliance and you will understand their dangerous designs. They want to enforce personal law, which will confine woman to homes. They are against Sanatan. Laluji said he would give OBC quota to Muslims. They want to divide you on caste lines to benefit Muslims,” he said on Tuesday.

Before him, defence minister Rajnath Singh, BJP president JP Nadda and union home minister Amit Shah were also in Ara to campaign for Singh.

On June 1, Ara will decide if RK Singh will script history, for no candidate from the same party has been able to win the seat even twice since the creation of the constituency, earlier known as Shahabad. From erstwhile Shahabad seat, however, Congress held sway for over two decades, with late Baliram Bhagat winning five times till he lost in 1977. He won again in 1984, the last time Congress got the seat.

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