Changing winds in Bihar’s crumbling red citadel

Begusarai district’s seven constituencies present a variety of contests

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | October 19, 2015 | Bihar


BJP leaders addressing a sabha in Ramdiri village, Begusarai district.
BJP leaders addressing a sabha in Ramdiri village, Begusarai district.

Politics in the land of the legendary Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ was less complicated till the emergence of Lalu Prasad Yadav as a backward caste leader. Begusarai, on the northern bank of the Ganga in Bihar, has given birth to communist leaders like Chandrashekhar and Suraj Narayan Singh, and was a communist stronghold till the mid-1990s. However, with the emergence of the Mandal and ‘kamandal’ brand of politics and also of Lalu Prasad, the communist hues started fading. 

In this assembly election, Teghra is the only one out of the seven electoral constituencies in Begusarai where a communist is in the race. This is one of those rare constituencies where, instead of a bipolar contest between the NDA led by Narendra Modi and the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ or grand alliance led by Nitish Kumar, there is a three-way contest with the Communist Party of India (CPI) in the fray.

“All voters know that only one party and its leaders are committed to development. BJP is asking for support to change the state of affairs in Bihar. I know people have faith in the leadership of Narendra Modi-ji, and they will vote for him and for BJP in the state,” says Ram Lakhan Singh, BJP candidate from Teghra.

While Singh is confident of victory, CPI is in the ‘no holds barred’ mode in attacking the BJP. “Teghra and its people know the real face of Modi and  the BJP. People know that local issues can only be solved by a leader whose heart bleeds for the poor. And they very well know as to who can bring change for them,” says Ram Ratan Singh of CPI, had who lost in the 2010 elections to BJP’s Lalan Kumar.

Interestingly, both BJP and CPI candidates are from the same village, Bihat, which consists of 22 tolas and seven panchayats. Ram Ratan Singh,  ‘mukhiya’ of a panchayat, is banking on support from villagers. On the other hand Ram Lakhan Singh, an ardent RSS supporter, belongs to a family of landlords. He has fought seven elections so far and lost to a communist cancdidate each time. This time, he however, believes that it’s different; is relying on the ‘Modi wave’ and also feels that the offensive comments made by Lalu Prasad Yadav against a particular caste will help him.

Meanwhile, the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ candidate, Birendra Kumar, is no walkover either. “I am getting support from all communities. People have lost faith in the BJP leadership. I am more than confident that Teghra is going to create history as people have faith in our leadership,” he says.

Teghra’ with 2.68 lakh voters has gone to the polls in the first round - October 12.

Milk or liquor?

Matihani constituency, also in Begusarai, had voted for Narendra Singh alias Bogo Singh of JD(U) last time. He has won thrice from the constituency – twice as an independent. Unlike the past, he is pitted against a formidable rival in BJP’s Sarvesh Kumar Singh this time.
The BJP has coined an interesting slogan here this time: “Doodh chahiye ya sharab? (What do you want, milk or liquor?)” The party is highlighting the professional profiles of two candidates: Sarvesh Kumar Singh,  retired officer, who owns the Ganga dairy, and runs schools and colleges, whereas Narendra Singh is a liquor merchant and contractor.

When you take a cursory look and do small talk with people, it would seem the elections issues are development and Modi. Dig deeper and more factors emerge. “My village is by and large communist/socialist in nature but this time there is a total change in people’s thinking  They have decided to vote for BJP because the JD(U)-RJD combination is insulting the upper caste people; they are trying to polarise people on caste lines,” says Jai Prakash Singh of Ramdiri village.

Another villager, Mahesh Yadav, says, “We have not decided yet but we will see who will serve us better. Caste is a reality but other issues are also important.”

‘Mahagathbandhan’ supporters are relying on Narendra Singh’s popularity among the upper castes dominated by Bhumihars. But BJP candidate Sarvesh Kumar Singh is relying heavily on Modi’s ‘magic’. He has been visiting villages. When he meets villagers, he asks them, “Doodh chahiye ya sharab?” Also, he tells them, “If you want to prosper like the people of Gujarat, then support Modi-ji by voting for me.”
About one lakh of the three lakh-plus voters in Matihani belong to upper castes, giving the BJP a comfortable edge.

Elsewhere in Begusarai

The other five constituencies in Begusarai district are Cheria Bariarpur, Bachhwara, Begusarai town, Bakhri (SC) and Sahebpur Kamal.
Begusarai town has sitting MLA Surendra Mehta from BJP and his reputation as a party worker as well as an MLA is high. Last time he had defeated veteran CPM leader Rajinder Singh, who is contesting again, but the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ has pitted the Congress’s Amita Bhushan, who runs an NGO. She is the daughter of a former MP from Balia.

“This time the contest is between BJP and Mahagathbandhan. I think BJP will win because of the Modi factor,” says Pawan Kumar Singh, a local resident. Mehta also has an edge thanks to more popular support among the upper as well as extreme backward castes.
In Cheria Bariarpur, Anil Choudhary of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), a key constituent of NDA, is considered a strong candidate. He is pitted against Manju Verma from the ‘Mahagthbandhan’.

Muslim voters can be crucial in case of close fights. Even as the voting is only a few days away, they do not seem to have made their choice. “The minority community is watching the trends, as they are not sure of whom to vote for. But one thing is sure that whosoever is more capable of defeating BJP will get the minority vote,” says Shakeel, a fruit seller in Barauni. However, in Begusarai a resident named Ibrahim says, “We will not vote for Lalu and not come under pressure. We will vote for development this time.”

pankaj@governancenow.com

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