On Friday, the CPI in New Delhi announced the names of 15 candidates for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls – former JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar wasn’t on this list. The party said its talks with the RJD were still on in Bihar and that it would “take a call on Kanhaiya” once that’s done.
Yet, in Begusarai, where there is little clarity on whether the CPI will be part of the RJD-led Grand Alliance and who the NDA candidate will be, Kanhaiya offers the only certainty for the state and local units of the CPI. The state unit had cleared Kanhaiya’s name for the seat and is waiting for the Central unit’s nod.
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The BJP, which won the seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, has the onus of retaining it. With the passing away in October 2018 of Bhola Singh, the party’s winning candidate in the 2014 election, the name of BJP Nawada MP and Union minister Giriraj Singh is doing the rounds for Begusarai, but so far, Giriraj Singh has not expressed any interest or made any statement on contesting from here. Among the other BJP names doing the rounds are of MLC Rajnish and former journalist and author Abhiranjan Kumar. The LJP, which could be given Nawada or Begusarai in exchange for Munger, a seat it currently holds but which the BJP has committed to the JD(U), is also in the reckoning.
Neither has there been any decision on whether the Left parties would join hands with the Mahagathbandhan.
CPI Bihar secretary Satya Narain Singh said, “Kanhaiya has been meeting the people of Begusarai for the last four-five months now. He has moved around in all the seven Assembly segments of Begusarai at least twice. He can draw a crowd of around 8,000 even at a small meeting. He is one definite candidate for us, irrespective of whether we forge ties with the RJD or not”.
Begusarai and adjoining Balia (post-delimitation, it’s no longer a Lok Sabha seat), once called “Leningrad” or “mini Moscow” because of the CPI’s dominant presence in the region, is a natural seat for Kanhaiya, an upper-caste Bhumihar from Bihat village in Begusarai.
With over 3.5 lakh votes, Bhumihars are the most dominant caste here, followed by Muslims with 2.5 lakh votes, Dhanuk-Kurmis 2 lakh, Yadavs 1.75 lakh and Kushwahas around 1 lakh votes. The NDA will hope to divide Bhumihar votes and capitalise on Dhanuk and Kurmi votes. With Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP now on the side of the Grand Alliance, the Kushwaha votes could get divided too.
Though the CPI has won Begusarai only twice — in 1967 and 1991 — it has always stood at the second or third position. It was only after the emergence of the Nitish Kumar-led NDA that the Left and Congress lost its grip on Begusarai.
While JD(U)’s Monajir Hasan won the seat in 2009, BJP rode on the Narendra Modi wave to win the seat for Bhola Singh in 2014. That election, RJD’s Tanvir Hasan was the runner-up with over 3.69 lakh votes and CPI’s Rajendra Singh was third with 1.91 lakh votes.
While Kanhaiya has already been creating a buzz with his strong “anti-Modi” stand and claims to enjoy the support of Muslims, Giriraj, despite carrying an outsider tag (he is from Barhaiya, Munger), could offer a strong counter to Kanhaiya. Besides, if the Left doesn’t go with the Grand Alliance, the RJD might field Tanvir Hasan, making it a three-cornered fight that will make Begusarai a seat to watch out for.
CPI state secretary Satya Narain Singh said: “If we have an alliance with the RJD, BJP won’t stand any chance because of Kanhaiya’s popularity and the social combination here. Even if we do not have an alliance, Kanhaiya can still cut into the RJD’s Muslim votes.”
A senior BJP leader, however, said once the party announces its candidate, “the Kanhaiya euphoria will settle down”. He said, “NDA has already made inroads into Begusarai in the last Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. But if RJD and CPI come together, there will be a contest”.
An RJD leader said the party has not been comfortable with Kanhaiya’s candidature since he faces a sedition case. “We know it was a case of political vendetta but it’s not good that the CPI is glorifying one individual. Besides, Kanhaiya has never spoken highly of our leader Tejashwi. Anyway, the alliance call is yet to be taken. Let us wait,” he said.