December 1, 2023

Shreyasi Singh’s Campaign trail: Her father her main ammo, BJP’s candidate keeps her eye on the prize

BJP rebel is competing for Rajput votes, and RJD has a loyal base, but goodwill for Digvijay Singh may hold 29-yr-old shooting champion in good stead.

She talks of having brought laurels to Jamui, Bihar and India. She invokes legacy of her late father and former Union minister Digvijay Singh. She seeks votes in the names of “Nitish Kumar in Bihar and Narendra Modi in Delhi”. And she insists she won’t go anywhere if she wins despite what her detractors claim.

Till two years ago, Shreyasi’s arena was a world far removed from Jamui, located near the Jharkhand border and counted among LWE-affected districts. In 2018, she won a gold medal in the double trap shooting event at CWG games in Australia and, till date, the 29-year-old remains Bihar’s only woman Arjuna Award winner.

However, like many other children of political heavyweights, her eventual destination was foretold. Her father was perhaps the last of the Rajput leaders of Bihar, known popularly as “Dada”. Union minister in the Chandrashekhar and A B Vajpayee governments, he had been denied a ticket from Banka by the JD(U) and contested as an Independent, and won. After he had died of heart attack in 2010, wife Putul Kumari had won the Banka seat in the bypolls but lost the same in 2014 and 2019.

It was a last-minute call by the BJP to field Shreyasi from Jamui. Ajay Pratap Singh, fellow Rajput and descendant of Srikrishna Singh, who had contested from the seat in 2015 and come second and won in 2010, revolted and is now standing as a nominee of Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP.

Needing all the help she can get, Shreyasi is banking on being her father’s daughter. His photo looms big on her campaign vehicle, one in which he bears a striking resemblance to her.

On a Thursday, Shreyasi reaches Jhundo by 1. 30 pm after visits to Sagdaha, Dharampur and Bela villages. As she makes her way to the Scheduled Caste Manjhi tola, a supporter introduces her as a “famous shooter” and “Dada’s daughter”, adding she is a candidate of Jitan Ram Manjhi. The former CM’s Hindustani Awam Morcha is part of the NDA.

The crowd claps appreciatively, as some women step forward for a closer look at Shreyasi amid slogans of “Shreyasi Singh zindabad”. Shreyasi says: “I am your daughter, niece and sister. I will work for Jamui’s development. Nitish Kumar has been doing well in Bihar and PM Narendra Modi at the Centre”.

Belonging to a royal family of the erstwhile Gidhaur Estate in Jamui area, Shreyasi took to shooting naturally with her grandfather Kumar Surendra Singh and father Digvijay Singh ace shooters as well as presidents of the All India Rifle Association. Her uncle Kumar Tripurari Singh said: “She grew up with the sports in the family.”

In the Jamui contest, Shreyasi is facing sitting RJD MLA and ex-minister Vijay Prakash (younger brother of former Banka MP Jaiprakash Yadav) and Ajay Pratap Singh.

The Assembly segment is dominated by Yadavs, Rajputs and Muslims followed by SCs.

Shreyasi and Ajay Pratap may divide the Rajput votes between them, while Vijay Prakash will hope to get the RJD’s Muslim-Yadav votes. Pratap also carries the stamp of family, with both his grandfather Srikrishna Singh and father Narendra Singh having been ministers in the state.

What might also help Shreyasi is the open LJP support for her. Partymen say Paswans are in “complete solidarity” with her. Says a villager, Rajdev Paswan, “With LJP president Chirag Paswan appealing for her, we have to support her. In any case, we are NDA voters.”

As she leaves Jhundo village, Shreyasi says, “I am getting support of people across the caste divide.”

She claims not to know too much about the crowds coming to RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav’s rallies, while adding, “I do not think he is a factor at all. I am focused on Jamui. Here, Nitish and Modi are the main factors.”

Going door to door at her next stop, Shreyasi, stopping to address a gathering at the insistence of villagers, says, “Some people are spreading canards that I am an outsider… You know I am from Gidhaur here and continue to live there despite being busy with sports.”

With OBC, EBC and Scheduled Caste and Muslim votes, apart from upper castes, Jhundo is keenly poised. And hence one of the areas where Shreyasi canvasses is the Muslim settlement, travelling through it her hands folded into a “pranam”.

At Chihutia village where upper castes are dominant, a resident, Subash Singh, says they back Shreyasi and hopes she will get them a long-promised dam.

Shreyasi, meanwhile, is preparing to address another gathering, and leads a five-year-old girl with her by hand to a small platform. “Do I need to seek your votes?… I just need your blessings,” she says.

As villagers remark at the “humility” of Dada’s daughter, Shreyasi can’t keep the smile off her face. It’s 4 pm, evening is already setting in, and there are four more villages to go. But shooting has taught her that focus, and patience, pay.


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