Purnia: In Bharatiya Janata Party stronghold of Purnia, often referred to as the mini-Darjeeling of Bihar, the talk generally is about the diminishing fortunes of the Congress.
The party is struggling with its own in the assembly polls as four of its leaders, denied tickets, have jumped into the fray -- two as Independents and two as members of other parties.
In Purnia (Sadar), one of the seven constituencies of Purnia district which will vote on November 5 in the last phase of five-phase polls, the BJP has fielded former Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Vijay Kumar Khemka (56), a Marwari, after denying ticket to its outgoing legislator Kiran Devi.
Marwaris and Baniyas constitute 40-45 percent of the total population of Purnia, with about 2.8 lakh voters. It has a mixed population without domination of any single caste. The BJP has made the most of this combination for the past 25 years.
Devi, wife of former legislator Raj Kishore Kesri, won from Purnia in the 2011 bypoll after her husband, a four-time lawmaker, was killed by a local schoolteacher. The teacher had filed a police case against Raj Kishore for raping her on various occasions.
The Congress has fielded its district president Indu Sinha (45) after denying ticket to Ram Charitra Yadav -- who had lost the last three elections. Yadav is now contesting the poll ing as an Independent.
Besides Yadav, the other erstwhile Congressmen pitted against the official party candidate include Arvind Kumar alias Bhola Shah (42) who joined hands with Pappu Yadav's Jan Adhikar Party, and Col. Akshay Yadav, president of the state unit's ex-army men's cell who is contesting on the Samajwadi Party ticket.
Former Congress district level official Bindu Jha too is contesting as an Independent.
"Congress is fighting here for its identity but it is unfortunate that the rebels are creating hurdles for the official party candidate," says Rambali Singh (75), an old Congress supporter.
Kamaldeo Narayan Sinha was the last party candidate who won from Purnia in 1969.
Purnia, earlier called Purnea, was once a strong bastion of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) when Ajit Sarkar won here in 1980 and ruled the assembly constituency for 18 long years till 1998.
Sarkar was gunned down with his driver Harendra Sharma and party worker Ashfaqur Rehman in broad daylight at Subhash Nagar in Purnea that year.
Sarkar's son, Amit Sarkar, returned from Australia to contest as the CPI-M candidate in 2011. But he lost to the BJP. This time, the CPI-M has fielded Rajiv Kumar Singh as Amit Sarkar has returned to Australia to rejoin his job.
"BJP will have the last laugh as the Congress members have been spoilers for their party," Bishwanath Thakur, a local resident, says.