Turf war to fill up MP void

Patna, Jan. 24: RJD MP from north Bihar's Maharajganj Lok Sabha constituency Umashankar Singh (72) died today following a cardiac arrest at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi.

The five-time MLA, who was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and lung infection, is survived by his wife and four sons.

Singh's death has, for all practical reasons, thrown open a platform for arch rivals chief minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad to test their wherewithal on the contentious Maharajganj seat ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Maharajganj, geographically falling between Saran that Lalu represents in the Lok Sabha and Gopalganj, his home seat, has always been a prestige seat for the RJD chief.

The JD(U) had wrested the seat from the RJD in the 2004 elections when Lalu had done extremely well. He had then won as many as 24 seats in the rest of the state and went on to become the railway minister.

Ironically, Lalu's RJD fared badly in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, notching up only four Lok Sabha seats against the NDA's 32. But Maharajganj was one of the four seats that the RJD managed to win in 2009. Umashankar Singh had then defeated the JD(U)'s Prabhunath Singh in Maharajganj.

The battle between Lalu and Nitish has got sharper now, with the Maharajganj "strongman", Prabhunath, who was vanquished by the RJD, joining Lalu's bandwagon. The initial indications have it that Lalu might field Prabhunath as the RJD nominee in the by-election that the Election Commission is scheduled to announce in the wake of the MP's death.

On the other hand, the JD(U) might fall for one of the sons of the deceased leader to field as its candidate to "earn" the sympathy of the voters. The chief minister mourned Umashankar's death, saying: "The Maharaganj MP was always committed to serving his constituents."

Political experts said the Election Commission was bound to hold the by-election to the Maharajganj seat because it had fallen vacant ahead of more than a year of the Lok Sabha elections scheduled to take place in April next year.

"Usually, the Election Commission goes for by poll in seats falling vacant beyond six months of the scheduled time of elections," an expert said.

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