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The Hindu
The Hindu
Amarnath Tewary

Lok Sabha polls | Gangster’s new wife could give JD(U) warhorse tough fight in Bihar’s Munger

Country-made kattas and the oldest locomotive repair workshop at Jamalpur have dominated Munger’s landscape for years. But of late, the town, 180km east of Patna, has been talking about a new bride from Delhi who married a convicted gangster last month and entered the Lok Sabha poll fray a few days later.

Anita Kumari Mahto, 45, whom the dreaded and convicted gangster Ashok Mahto, 57, married, is fighting on an RJD ticket. With the Mahto surname, she is expected to give the sitting MP Rajiv Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh a very tough fight. Mr. Singh, a former JD(U) president considered close to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, has been an MP from Munger twice – in 2009 and 2019. But in 2014, he lost to Veena Devi, wife of yesteryear don Surajbhan Singh, who fought from the united Lok Janshakti Party.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Mahto was the most-dreaded gangster in central Bihar. After 17 years in jail, when he came out in November 2023, he set his eyes on the Lok Sabha election. But since the law prohibits convicts jailed for over two years from contesting an election until six years of release, he married Ms. Kumari during the ‘inauspicious’ month of kharwas and two days later reached RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s house on 10, Circular Road in Patna. Mr. Prasad gave the new couple blessings and an RJD ticket to Ms. Mahto to contest the election from Munger.

“Lalu ji has always been a guardian,” Mr. Mahto told The Hindu while campaigning along with his wife and other party leaders at Idgah in Munger’s fort area on Thursday.

The bespectacled Ms. Mahto, who till her marriage was working as chief pharmacist at the Northern Railway Central Hospital in New Delhi, said she was here “to win”. “Ensuring justice and rights of the poor and marginalized section of the society will be my priority,” she said.

When The Hindu asked her about the chances of a political novice winning the election, Mr. Mahto interrupted and said, “there is no contest. You can ask the voters who are fed up with corruption in the welfare schemes”. Ms. Mahto convincingly nodded her head in agreement.

It’s not every day that one gets a Lok Sabha ticket as a ‘mooh dikhai’ gift in Bihar and for Ms. Mahto it came as a surprise. It would for anybody anyway. “I was happy working as a chief pharmacist in Delhi. The marriage happened suddenly as if it was fixed up above. I did not know that I will fight an election and... ,” she said.

Before she could complete, Mr. Mahto interrupted again and said, “we plan things in life but everything is fixed up above” and hit the campaign trail again with his wife in a white Mercedes SUV followed by a fleet of cars.

Mr. Mahto was the main accused in the Apsadh massacre case in which 12 people were killed in Nawada, in the murder of five-time MLA and twice MP Rajo Singh (2005) and the Nawada jailbreak (2001). In 2006, he was arrested from Pakur in Jharkhand and jailed. The web series, Khakee -The Bihar Chapter, is based on the writings of then Superintendent of Police of Nawada Amit Lodha on how he had arrested Mr. Mahto and his accomplices. Mr. Mahto though dismissed the web series as “fiction and frivolous”.

The convicted lawbreaker’s foray into politics is expected to change the caste equations in the election for Mr. Mahto hails from the OBC community. “This time it is going to be very tough for NDA candidate Lalan Singh to get through because of Ashok Mahto’s wife,” said Srikrishan Prasad, a senior journalist and observer from Munger. Mr. Prasad, who has been covering the campaign almost every day, said “the lower caste and backward caste votes are going to Anita Kumari Mahto”.

The Munger Lok Sabha constituency has 3 lakh EBC (Extremely Backward Class) votes, more than 2 lakh votes each from the backward Kurmi and Dhanuk castes. The Yadavs have 1.8 lakh votes and Muslims comprise nearly 1 lakh voters. The upper caste Bhumihar and Vaishya communities have over 2 lakh votes each and the Rajput community has 1.5 lakh voters.

Munger votes in the fourth phase on May 13.

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