Situated on the northern bank of the Ganga river, Begusarai in north Bihar has earned the “Leningrad of Bihar” and “Little Moscow” monikers, and is again drawing national attention because the CPI has fielded its firebrand leader Kanhaiya Kumar while the BJP has pitted against him its top Bhumihar leader and union minister Giriraj Singh.
In all this, the RJD’s Tanveer Hasan, the ‘mahagathbandhan’ candidate, may not be creating much media hype, but his presence has made the contest traingular and also dimming Kanhaiya’s chances as the anti-BJP votes are likely to be divided between the RJD and the CPI.
An analysis suggests that if it had been a two-cornered contest, Kanhaiya had a good chance to spring a surprise on the BJP.
Kanhaiya, a former president of the JNU Students’ Union, came into the limelight after his arrest for an “anti-national sloganeering event” on the campus in 2016. His emergence as a youth leader fuelled hopes in the CPI of its revival and the party fielded him as its candidate.
The “anti-national” tag has stuck with Kanhaiya after the JNU incident and this was perhaps the reason Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah decided to field Giriraj Singh, seen by many as an anti-Muslim face in Bihar, from Begusarai despite his wish to re-contest from Nawada.
Giriraj Singh was insisting he would contest from Nawada but after it went to the LJP in the seat-sharing deal between the NDA allies, he was persuaded to contest from Begusarai.
So, how did Begusarai get its monikers? It was from the prolonged struggle between the landless and the landlords organised under the banner of the communist parties. The BJP’s Bhola Singh won the seat in 2014, defeating Tanveer Hasan by a margin of over 58,000 votes. Bhola Singh, a former Communist leader, had switched sides to the BJP.
With 34.31 per cent of vote-share, Hasan secured nearly 370,000 votes while Bhola Singh got nearly 428,000 votes or 39.72 per cent. The CPI’s Rajendra Prasad Singh with nearly 200,000 or 17.87 per cent of the votes.
According to an estimate, Bhumihars constitute about 19 per cent of voters in Begusarai, followed by Muslims (15 per cent), Yadavs (12 per cent) and Kurmis (7 percent) of the 19 lakh electorate.
The Bhumihar vote holds the key and this is evident from the fact that in at least 11 of the past 16 Lok Sabha polls, nine of the MPs elected have been Bhumihars.
Before the last delimitation in 2009, there were two parliamentary constituencies in Begusarai district – Begusarai and Balia. They were then combined as Begusarai while Balia ceased to exist. Five of the seven Assembly seats of Begusarai district used to fall in Balia.
Since 1952, the Congress won the Begusarai seat eight times and JD-U twice. The CPI won the seat only once when its candidate Yogendra Shrama emerged victorius. The RJD, the BJP, the Janata Party and the Janata Dal claimed the seat on one ocassion each, as did an independent.
The CPI was more powerful in Balia parliamentary seat, which it won four times. But since 1999 the CPI started declining from both Balia and Begusarai.
With both Giriraj Singh and Kanhaiya being Bhumihars, much depends on who would garner maximum support from thier caste.
Giriraj Singh is banking on the Bhumihars, upper castes, Kurmis and Extremely Backward castes, while the RJD is banking on Muslims, Yadavs and backward class voters.
The CPI had hoped that the RJD would not field any candidate to make Kanhaiya’s win a certainity, but it announced Hasan’s candidature.
Under the present circumstances, Kanhaiya seems to have an uphill task ahead. If he manages to split the crucial Bhumihar vote, the direct beneficiary would be Hasan.
But the RJD won’t have it easy too. Due to a large industrial presence in Begusarai, the trade union movement has dominated the political discourse in the area and the CPI has a strong mass base.
Kanhaiya has been aggressively campaigning since the last two months in Begusarai and seeking support from every caste and community. He has invited his friends to Begusarai for campaigning. Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani recently campaigned for him.
Begusarai will vote in the fourth phase of Lok Sabha polls that will be held on April 29. The result, as in the rest of the country, will be out on May 23.