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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aishwarya's political debut likely from Bihar

By Nitin Desai & Purnuma Bhatt

The Bollywood star, being wooed by SP's Bihar unit, may end up wrestling with heavyweights Lalu and Sharad Yadav.

The popular song in the 1996 Hindi film ''Chhote Sarkar' – ' Ek chumma tu mujhko udhaar deyi de aur badle mein UP, Bihar leyi le' (Lend me a kiss and take both UP and Bihar in exchange) – had perhaps predicted it all.

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar's traditionally pivotal roles in deciding the fortunes of India's national politics have once again pitch forked a movie star into the dusty arena of general elections. Bollywood heartthrob and India's most famous daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai is now being earnestly wooed by leaders of the Samajwadi Party (SP)'s Bihar unit to contest the Lok Sabha polls on the party's ticket from this NDA-ruled state.

Aishwarya, the daughter-in-law of star couple Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan, may make her political debut by contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Bihar's Madhepura constituency. While Jaya Bachchan has been a Rajya Sabha MP from the SP from Uttar Pradesh, megastar Amitabh has been an avowed supporter of the SP and friend of the party's top leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh. The SP has already roped in Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt and Bihar's Bhojpuri film star Manoj Tiwari to contest from UP.

If Aishwarya contests from Madhepura, the polls are likely to see an unexpected touch of glamour in the midst of tragedy as Madhepura district had borne the brunt of the Kosi floods six months ago. Thousands of people rendered homeless by the catastrophic floods in the district are still struggling to resume normal life.

It would be mascara pitted against muscle if Aishwarya enters the poll fray in Madhepura, where the polls have remained synonymous with the flexing of muscles by notorious dons. Madhepura is currently represented by criminal-turned-politician Pappu Yadav, who is in Tihar Jail after being sentenced to life term for the murder of CPM leader Ajit Sarkar.

Madhepura, a socio-economically backward constituency, is dominated by the Yadav caste – over 30 per cent of its 12 lakh voters are from the Yadav (cowherd) community. Literacy rate of the electorate in Madhepura is just 28 per cent.

Aishwarya, who is a screen goddess but a political greenhorn, would have to fight against such heavyweights as Railway minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad and the JD(U) national chief and former NDA Union minister Sharad Yadav. These two Yadav leaders have fought pitched battles to win this constituency in the past.

Lalu himself is keen to contest from Madhepura this time as Pappu Yadav may not get the Election Commission's clearance to contest due to his conviction. Lalu's keenness to contest from the Yadav-dominated Madhepura has been evident from the massive relief and rehabilitation efforts he had mounted as Railway Minister in the wake of the Kosi calamity in the district. Lalu had also gifted Madhepura a Rs 1,294-crore green-field electric locomotive manufacturing unit despite the district's sheer absence of sustainable infrastructure.

In the last general elections of 2004, Lalu had defeated Sharad Yadav from Madhepura. The RJD chief and former Bihar chief minister had contested and won from both Chapra and Madhepura in the 2004 polls, but he retained Chapra and let his party colleague Pappu fight and win the Madhepura seat. In the previous Lok Sabha polls of 1999, Sharad Yadav had defeated Lalu in Madhepura.

Unlike in UP, the SP is a fledgling party in Bihar – it contested in 159 seats in the 2005 Bihar Assembly polls and won just two. But it hopes to improve its fortunes by winning at least five of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar whose socio-political scenario resembles UP's. The SP's Bihar state parliamentary board has recommended Aishwarya's name as the party's candidate from Madhepura.

The SP's Madhepura district president Angad Yadav said the district unit leaders and activists of the party have formally written to the party chief to consider Aishwarya for this seat. "We are sure to win this seat if the party ropes in Aishwarya. She is very popular among the masses in Madhepura," Singh told HNN.

"The Bachchan family is so friendly with our party. So if Aishwarya contests from Bihar, our party would certainly gain several seats," said the SP's Bihar state parliamentary board chairman Tulsi Singh. "I have recommended Aishwarya's name to my party chief as that is the desire of a majority of party workers in Madhepura," he added.

But Aishwarya's entry into politics and her contesting from Madhepura still remain subjects of speculation. Neither the SP leadership nor the Bachchan family has so far reacted to the wishes of the Bihar SP's requests. Besides, it is still unclear if the SP would get to contest from Madhepura at all. The party may be denied the Madhepura seat in the event of it allying with the RJD and the LJP in Bihar as part of the UPA coalition.

RJD national spokesman Shyam Rajak said his party has "natural claim" on Madhepura. "We have a sitting MP from there and we have natural claim on it. Madhepura seat belongs to Pappu Yadav. No other party can claim it at this point of time, but our leader Lalu Prasad would have to make the final decision". He refused to speak on the possibility of Lalu contesting from Madhepura.

But the JD(U) is sure that Aishwarya, who was conferred the Padma Shri honour on Republic Day this year, would lose the polls in Madhepura. "Bihar's people have tasted the fruits of development and they will not be foolish to vote anyone just for their glamour," said JD(U) national spokesman and Rajya Sabha MP Shivanand Tiwary to HNN.
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