Image courtesy: Mohd. Imran Khan
Shahpur/Tarari (Arrah/Bihar): “This time in Bihar, it is not merely a simple electoral fight; it is a battle between the powerful and the weak, between the rich and the poor,” said Hira Ram, a Dalit landless labourer. His words reflect mood of a large number of people – most of them being labourers – from this constituency.
Hira – who was covering his head with a gamcha (a towel) – sat under a big tree with a group of villagers, most of whom work as construction workers of farm labourers. He told NewsClick that battle lines have been clearly drawn, and that class conflict is at play along with the caste.
“People like me are supporting Community Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) [CPI(ML)] candidate Raju Yadav, who is popular among the workers,” he said.
Raju is also backed by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and supported by the other allies of Grand Alliance.
Shankar Singh, an upper caste landed Bhumihar and Umesh Tiwary, a Brahmin of Bishnupur village in Shahpur – both of whom seemed well off – are avid supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate R K Singh, a Union minister. He belongs to the powerful upper caste Rajput.
“We will never support a violent party like CPI(ML) whose candidate again is a Yadav, a backward caste candidate. If this party wins the polls, Dalits and backwards, particularly Yadavs, would become more powerful at the local level,” said Shankar, who is in his early 60s. His view was seconded by Tiwary.
In Arrah parliamentary constituency, the battle is directly between the CPI(ML) and BJP. It has eliminated the chances of splitting of either pro-BJP votes or anti-BJP votes.
Issues like development, agrarian distress, unemployment, migration for livelihood, lack of quality education and health facilities are part of discussions. However, unlike any other parliamentary constituency in Bihar, Arrah is highly polarised. Powerful upper castes, mainly Brahmins, Rajputs and Bhumihar, along with traditionally BJP loyalist Baniyas, are vocal about their opposition to the CPI(ML). Similarly, poor, Dalits, OBCs, EBCs and Muslims stand against the BJP. Interestingly, Arrah is a bit more immune to the divide along the Hindu-Muslim or Bhumihar/Rajput-Yadav lines.
Dheeraj Paswan, a rickshaw-puller in his 50s, told NewsClick, “We are poor. We have been oppressed and suppressed by the powerful people. So, our hope lies with CPI(ML).”
A few days ago, three youths belonging to Paswan [Dalit] community were reportedly attacked by Babu Sahebs (Rajputs) during campaigning for the CPI(ML). “Our so-called leader Ram Vilas Paswan and his son Chirag Paswan, who are with BJP, did not utter a single word against goons of the BJP candidate Singh. This incident has angered Paswan community that is now solidly behind Raju Yadav,” said Dheeraj.
Navin Kumar, a CPI(ML) leader said that the party is receiving overwhelming support from the poor, mostly belonging to Dalit and backward communities.
Anil Kumar, a middle-aged upper caste Brahmin and resident of Samaria Palti Ojha village in Shahpur, said “We will back BJP, as victory of CPI(ML) is not in our interest. You will find similar views among the upper classes in Bhojpur that has witnessed violence and killing to protect interests of the landed farmers in the past.”
Anil was referring to notorious and brutal Ranvir Sena, the landed upper caste militia, which was known for causing terror among Dalits and lower castes in 90s. Ranvir Sena was involved in massacres of Dalits and backwards.
Jagnarayan Yadav, an unemployed resident of Imadpur who is in his 30s, said, “We will support CPI(ML) this time unlike last time when we had supported RJD, as the party has extended support to CPI(ML) to defeat the BJP.”
The CPI(ML) is hopeful of a victory from this seat after nearly 30 years. It was in 1989 that Rameshwar Prasad of the Indian People’s Front, (IPF) an outfit of then underground CPI(ML), had won this seat. The party has won Assembly seats in the past, including Terari in 2015 polls.
The BJP, too, has won this seat for the first time in 2014, and is trying hard to retain it.
BJP’s Singh, an IAS officer-turned-politician has a clean image, but is banking mainly on Modi card, while speaking about nationalism, terror and national security.
Raju Yadav, on the other hand, is a fighter, and is known for his down-to-earth image. He has taken a pro-poor stance, and continues to talk about pro-people issues.