Teghra/Matihani/Bakhri/Bachwada (Bihar): “Lal (red) ke jeet ka sambhavna dikh raha hai barson baad (Years later, the chances of the red flag winning are high this time),” Muneshwar Rai, a marginal farmer, said, sitting under a tree near his paddy field.
Rai was speaking about the Left parties contesting four out of seven assembly seats in Begusarai district in these elections as part of the Grand Alliance. Once considered a Left citadel – known as the Leningrad of Bihar – the area is hopeful of a resurgence of the parties.
There was a time till the mid-90s that Left parties – including the CPI and the CPI (M) – dominated in five out of seven seats here. The last time this happened was in 1995, despite a wave in favour of the Lalu Prasad-led Janata Dal then.
Rai, a resident of Dhankaul village under the Teghra assembly constituency, said anti incumbency against the NDA government led by Nitish Kumar and the popularity of Tejashwi Yadav – chief ministerial candidate of the opposition Grand Alliance – among the youth will have an effect on the elections. Tejashwi raked up the issue of joblessness and has promised ten lakh government jobs if he comes to power.
Barkhi ASSEMBLY seat CPI (I) candidate Suryajant Paswan during campaign
According to Rai, Communist Party of India candidate Ramratan Singh has an edge over the JD-U candidate Virendar Kumar Singh. He said that Left parties along with the RJD and Congress are a formidable force, unlike the NDA of JD-U and the BJP. He said the duo lacked coordination and had developed a distrust in recent days.
Rai said he felt that the Left will gain as its part of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance). In the assembly polls in 2016, the RJD won the seat when the Grand Alliance consisted of it, the JD-U and the Congress. At the time, the CPI contested alone. However, ahead of the polls, the sitting RJD MLA changed sides and joined the ruling JD-U which fielded him.
Adding to the mix is the Lok Janshakti Party, a BJP ally, which has fielded its candidate Lallan Kunwar – a BJP rebel – against the JD-U. Locals say Kunwar is trying to cut into the JD-U votes by attracting support from BJP sympathisers. Satyanarayan Singh, a resident of Barauni, said if the BJP was in the fray he would have considered supporting it.
“I will prefer sitting at home than standing in line to vote for Nitish’s JD-U,” said Singh, who belongs to the influential upper-caste Bhumihar community, which has a sizable population. He said the government failed to set up any new industries in the area, despite the fact that it was an industrial pockets developed decades ago. BJP supporters in the area, like Singh, are not too keen on the JD-U.
Sultan Ahmad from Amjadpur Bitholi village said: “Lal jhanda aage hai, jeet raha hai (The red flag is ahead, it will win).” He said that people from all castes and communities are supporting the Grand Alliance for a change. The last time the CPI won Teghra was in 2005. Five years later the party was defeated for the first time in the constituency since 1962, when legendary party leader Chandra Shekhar Singh first won from the seat.
Bachwara ASSEMBLY seat CPI (I) candidate Ratan Singh during campaign
Bachwara is another constituency from where the CPI is hopeful ahead of the polls. The CPI’s Awadesh Kumar Rai is said to have an edge over the BJP candidate Surendra Mehta. However, Rai’s troubles lie with independent candidate Shiv Prakash alias Garib Das – a Congress rebel and son of Ramdeo Rai, who won the seat as a Congress candidate in 2015 and died a few months later. With the seat falling to the CPI under the seat-sharing formula, Shiv Prakash was left disappointed. The importance of Bachwara for the CPI can be understood from the fact that it won the seat in 2010, despite a wave in favour of Nitish Kumar’s NDA. It was the only seat won by the party from Begusarai.
“The CPI’s chances look strong due to the anger against the government and a desire for change. The people are vocal about the lack of jobs, particularly the youth,” said Ajay Kumar, a resident of Bhagwanpur village. Suresh Prasad, from Bhikan Chak village, said the CPI is likely to repeat its victory after a decade. “It all comes down to how much support it gets from Bhumihars,Yadavs and Dalits,” he said.
Over in Matihani, CPI (M) candidate Rajendar Prasad Singh is pitted against JD-U MLA Bogo Singh, a contractor-turned politician known for his money and muscle power with over a dozen criminal cases still pending against him. The LJP has fielded Rajkumar Singh, son of Kamdeo Singh, a notorious gangster-cum-smuggler here. While Rajkumar has a clean image unlike his father, his presence has turned the fight into a triangular contest. Matihani is a Bhumihar-dominated seat with a sizable population of Muslim, Yadav and Dalit voters. The three contestants here are Bhumihars.
“We (Bhumihar) are divided here. Anyone who manages to get votes from a caste other than ours will move ahead. If the social equation works in favour of the Grand Alliance, the CPI (M) has a fair chance of challenging the JD-U and may wrest the seat from it. Bogo Singh is still a powerful figure with resources. It all depends on how much damage LJP’s Rajkumar can cause to him,” Pappu Singh, a resident of Balahpur village said.
Teghra assembly seat CPI (I) candidate Awadhesh Rai
Md. Saleem, a resident of Saidpur village under Matihani block, said the left party candidate is very much in the race. CPI (M) leader Vinitabh said the party is hopeful of winning as the people had responded unexpectedly well. CPI leader Anil Anjan has been spending more time campaigning for CPI (M) candidate in Matihani than for his own party’s candidates.
“It is a conscious move as there is a need to strengthen to have a winning chance,” he said. In the reserved assembly seat of Bakhri, CPI candidate Suryakant Paswan is said to have a better chance of winning than Kumar Shailendra of the BJP.
The RJD had won the seat in the previous elections and it went to the CPI under the seat-sharing formula. “We have been voting for the CPI and will support it again. Joblessness and price rise is killing us. The government must go as it has failed to help the poor like us,” said Mahendar Paswan from of Chak Hamid village. Satish Rai from Bagban said if the CPI gets the support of the RJD’s supporters, the party will win the seat easily. “There is anger and dissatisfaction among the people against the government. People are vocal to change the government.”
Kanhaiya Kumar, former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president, who unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha polls as a Communist Party of India candidate from Begusarai, has been hard at work, addressing election meetings at over a dozen places a day, seeking support for party candidates. Tejashwi Yadav also addressed election rallies in Begusarai in support of Grand Alliance candidates. Begusarai’s seats will go to polls on November 3 in the second phase of the Bihar polls.
All photos by Mohd. Imran Khan