Left, Right & Centre: Triangular fight in Leningrad of Bihar, Begusarai
Known for its electorate’s communist leanings, Begusarai has become a high-profile constituency with former JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar jumping in the poll fray. Kanhaiya, who hails from the district and is contesting on a Communist Party of India (CPI) ticket, is facing heavyweights Tanveer Hassan of Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and Union Minister Giriraj Singh.
Known for his oratory skills, Kanhaiya is leaving no stone unturned to woo Begusarai voters. Meanwhile, Hassan is banking on the power of the Mahagathbandhan as the BJP’s Singh is relying on PM Modi’s image and development work.
Called Bihar’s Leningrad, Begusarai, which will vote on April 29, has had Leftist ideology prevailing in the region since 1930. Communist leader Chandrasekhar Singh had started building the party in a structured manner around 1960. Teghra, an Assembly constituency in Begusarai, was represented by the CPI from 1962 to 2010. Presently, Begusarai is held by BJP MP Bhola Singh, who rode to victory on 2014’s Modi wave despite a tough fight by Hassan.
However, political equations have changed in Begusarai for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, as the Mahagathbandhan of RJD, Congress, HAM, RLSP, and CPI (ML) is buzzing all over the state.
Senior RJD leader Sanjay Yadav said, “This election is all about ideologies and social justice. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, RJD had an alliance with Congress, and we managed to secure the second position, after getting defeated by a mere 55,000 votes. But in 2019, RJD along with four parties is leading the seat; also, currently, Mahagathbandhan has five MLAs, while both BJP and CPI have none in the Begusarai constituency.”
Begusarai Lok Sabha constituency has around 3 lakh Muslim voters and 2.5 lakh Yadav voters, which will play a crucial role in the battle of Leningrad.
A local who did not wish to be named said, “One thing that makes Kanhaiya different from others is his oratory skills. He is popular among youths of Begusarai. But this time, Hindu votes will be divided between him and Singh. Hassan, being the lone Muslim candidate, has an edge too. Also, being an RJD candidate, Hassan will likely get some Yadav votes as well.
“Around 150 JNU professors and several teachers have been campaigning for Kanhaiya in Begusarai. Even celebrities Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar along with social activists Rajmohan Gandhi and Aruna Roy are expected to campaign for him.”
Speaking on the division of votes, CPI leader and All India Students Federation leader Syed Valliullah Khadri, who is campaigning for Kanhaiya in Begusarai, said, “There is no divide in Muslim votes. Hassan is a staunch Lalu supporter. He has never raised issues faced by Muslims, including mob lynching and cow vigilantism. The minority community here has understood that Kanhaiya is their future. In fact, people are calling him ‘Kanhaiya Khan’.
“Voters of Begusarai have been asking about ‘Achhe Din’ and the job crisis. Kanhaiya is contesting to resolve such issues, not for religion or caste, like the opposition. So here, the real fight is between Kanhaiya and Singh; Hassan is not in the race.”
Where BJP stands
According to media reports, Singh was keen to fight from Nawada constituency, as Kanhaiya and Hassan started campaigning early in Begusarai. However, pressure from central leadership sent him to Begusarai.
Singh is a firebrand and hardline Hindutva politician. Because he hails from Lakhisarai district of Bihar, opposition leaders are calling him ‘an outsider’. Some media reports hinted that Singh has come across as volatile at times, particularly because the other two candidates are leading the race, while Singh is having to try harder to woo Begusarai voters.
A local BJP leader said the BJP is banking on five years of Modi government’s development, support of Bhumihars, and upper caste votes.
Political commentator Abhishek Ranjan, who has analysed all the three candidates, said, “Apart from the Patna Sahib seat, Begusarai has captured national attention mainly because of Kanhaiya Kumar. But delivering an intellectual speech and winning Lok Sabha election are two different things. As much as people would like a young boy to win Lok Sabha from a Left ticket in Bihar, it’s a tough job. However, Kanhaiya Kumar has made his mark, and it will be interesting to see how he can revive Left politics. If he wins, it will be as historic as a young Vajpayee trumping Nehru.
“A state like Bihar is known to vote for caste. Hence the fielding of Tanveer Hassan, which would consolidate the MY (Muslims & Yadavs) equation and possibly help the RJD to win.”
Elaborating on BJP’s chances, Ranjan added, “I am of the view that upper caste votes will be divided but will favour Giriraj Singh, as he is NDA’s face. Had RJD fielded someone other than Tanveer Hassan, the battle could have been tougher.”