Bhagalpur : Thanks to Bihar's known caste equations, the "Grand Alliance" appears to be sitting pretty in most of Bhagalpur's seven assembly constituencies. This is bad news for the BJP.
Political activists admit that social engineering -- or coalition of castes -- seems to have worked for the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) as well as the Congress.
But the three-party alliance is facing, like its main foe Bharatiya Janata Party, stiff opposition from party rebels in at least five constituencies.
The BJP has fielded candidates for four seats in the district, leaving two to the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and one to the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP).
In the other camp, the JD-U is fighting for three seats, and the Congress and RJD two each.
Bhagalpur goes to the polls on October 12 in the first phase of the staggered voting in Bihar.
The BJP has been hit by one of the worst ever rebellions in its rank and file in the Bhagalpur, Kahalgaon and Gopalpur constituencies. The Grand Alliance faces the same problem in Nathnagar and Sultanganj.
There is a direct fight between the two alliances in Bihpur and Pirpainti.
After Buxar MP Ashwini Kumar Choubey's son Arijit Shashwat was named the BJP nominee from Bhagalpur, party leader Vijay Prasad Sah jumped into the fray as an independent.
Sah, giving sleepless nights to BJP leaders, has made the electoral battle triangular. The Congress has fielded outgoing legislator Ajit Sharma, a billionaire with assets of more than Rs.40 crore.
In Gopalpur, BJP's former legislator Amit Rana has filed nomination against the party's official candidate Anil Yadav. Rana, a son of fodder scam convict R.K. Rana, joined the BJP a few months back. Another BJP rebel, Suresh Bhagat, is also in the fray.
The Grand Alliance has fielded outgoing legislator Narendra Kumar Niraj alias Gopal Mandal.
Veteran Congress leader Sadanand Singh, seeking a ninth term in the Bihar assembly, faces a triangular contest in Kahalgaon. His challenge comes from BJP rebel Pawan Kumar Yadav and LJP's Niraj Kumar Mandal.
In neighbouring Nathnagar, former JD-U leader Abu Kaiser, contesting as Pappu Yadav-led Jan Adhikar Party's candidate, may spoil the prospects of JD-U's official candidate Ajay Kumar Mandal.
If this wasn't enough, Mandal, an outgoing legislator, has another headache: RJD rebel Pappu Yadav. The LJP has fielded Amarnath Prasad alias Amar Singh Kushwaha.
The BJP-led NDA hopes to win this seat as it is expecting the Yadav and Muslim votes to get split.
In Sultanganj, the main fight is between JD-U's outgoing legislator and former CPI-M MP Subodh Ray and RLSP's Himanshu Prasad. Vijay Mandal of the BJP and Lalan Yadav of the Congress are contesting independently, and they can't be ignored.
Bihpur is the only place where the BJP is sure of victory. It has fielded outgoing legislator Kumar Shailendra, who is in direct fight with RJD's Varsha Rani, wife of Bhagalpur MP Shailesh Kumar alias Bulo Mandal.
Pirpainti, the only reserved constituency of Bhagalpur, will also witness a direct fight between the BJP and the RJD. The BJP has chosen Lalan Paswan, denying ticket to outgoing legislator Aman Paswan. The RJD has fielded Ram Vilas Paswan.
"We are wining the Bihpur seat comfortably and are in close contest in Nathnagar and Pirpainti," a veteran BJP leader told IANS on the condition of anonymity.
But he admitted: "We are facing charges of promoting dynastic politics in Bhagalpur. The same is the case with RJD in Bihpur. People don't like such politics."
Ashok Kumar, a homeopathy doctor who is also a cable operator in Nathnagar, told IANS that Bhagalpur's basic problems were "bijli, pani aur sadak".
"But ultimately people will vote on caste lines, which goes in favour of Mahagathbandhan," he said, referring to the Grand Alliance.
"It's very unfortunate but a reality. People vote on caste lines. The traditional social base of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad - backward class and Muslims - dominate in Bhagalpur in comparison to the NDA's leaning on upper castes," Kumar said.
Sunil Kumar Yadav of S.S.V College in Kahalgaon told IANS: "We want development but Yadavs and Gangotas, along with a sizeable chunk of Kurmis and Muslims, have made the road smooth for the Grand Alliance."
Sensing the situation, BJP president Amit Shah has sent Navsari MP C.R. Patil to Bhagalpur for micro management at the booth level. Patil and some 40 Gujaratis are camping at the residence of a BJP Yadav leader. Shah has held a workers' meeting in Pirpainti and addressed a rally in Bhagalpur.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also addressed a rally in Bhagalpur, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi pulled crowds in Kahalgaon.
In the last assembly election, the BJP won two seats and the JD-U three in Bhagalpur when they were allies. Two seats went to the Congress.