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Highest victory margin to lowest assets, old struggles to new faces: CPI (M-L) in Bihar

Since Alam defeated his nearest rival, Barun Kumar Jha of the Vikassheel Insaan Party, by over 50,000 votes in Balrampur seat in Katihar district, there is a steady stream of visitors.

Written by Abhinav Rajput | Shivnandpur (barsoi) | Updated: November 16, 2020 11:57:06 am
Mahboob Alam, who won by the highest margin in the Bihar elections, at his home in a village in Balrampur. (Express photo by Abhinav Rajput)

The narrow lanes of Shivnandpur village in Balrampur have just enough space for one car to pass at a time. The houses on both sides are mostly single-storey, largely with kuchcha roofs. In one of these houses, with an asbestos roof, mud floor, unplastered walls and a DTH antenna, lives newly elected CPI (M-L) MLA Mahboob Alam, who won by the biggest margin in the recent Bihar elections.

Since Alam defeated his nearest rival, Barun Kumar Jha of the Vikassheel Insaan Party, by over 50,000 votes in Balrampur seat in Katihar district, there is a steady stream of visitors. Plastic chairs are placed outside the house for them. His “humble background” is now well known even outside these parts, after a photo of Alam with his niece in his unplastered room went viral on social media.

Read| Bihar election results: Left sees resurgence

In his election affidavit, Alam, 64, declared Rs 30,000 in his bank account, plots of land worth over 9 lakh, and a Scorpio car that he says is out of use since an accident. His two children, 4 and 9 years old, go to government schools. This is his fourth term as an MLA; he last won in 2015.

“I have tried to lead a simple life. This is not communism, but idealism. Till there are people in my constituency who find it difficult to afford two meals, I don’t think there is need for luxury,” Alam says, crediting “help of comrades in campaigning” for his win. Like all Left cadre, Alam says most of what he earns as salary and perks entitled to an MLA, around Rs 80,000, goes to the party.

Highest victory margin to lowest assets, old struggles to new faces: CPI (M-L) in Bihar Mehboob Alam with his son and daughter at his residence. (Express photo by Abhinav Rajput)

His affidavit also mentioned 10 cases against him, including murder, rioting and the use of a dangerous weapon. Alam says the charges are “framed”. “We fight for people to keep their land… If anyone does injustice, the Constitution gives us the right of self-defence.”

Alam started out as a student leader, with the CPM’s SFI, from Katihar. He says his focus this time would be ensuring that autorickshaw drivers and vendors at railway stations are not exploited, people affected by floods get compensation, and addressing fears regarding the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and plans for a National Register of Citizens (NRC). Bordering West Bengal, Balrampur is dominated by Muslims, followed by Dalits and Extremely Backward Classes. “People here live in fear and confusion about the CAA-NRC,” he says.

Explained | What role do Left parties play in the Bihar poll maths?

Alam adds that he has been raising in the Assembly issues like bridges for Barsoi, a hospital in Abadpur, and pending compensation for farmers for land.

If Alam has come far from his student days, the CPI (M-L)’s remarkable success in the Bihar elections, winning 12 seats (just seven short of the Congress), rests on the work of many youth cadres.

Highest victory margin to lowest assets, old struggles to new faces: CPI (M-L) in Bihar Sandeep Saurav, CPI (ML) candidate from Paliganj in Patna district, is a former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students, Union general secretary. (Express photo by Abhinav Rajput)

Like Sandeep Saurav, 33, a former JNU student’s union general secretary and now a first-time MLA. The national general secretary of CPI (M-L) student wing AISA, Saurav won from Paliganj, getting almost double the votes (67,917) of his nearest rival, the JD(U)’s Jay Vardhan Yadav (37,002).

A PhD from JNU, Saurav worked as an assistant professor at a Bihar college before joining politics full-time. In Paliganj, he is known for leading protests over unemployment, minimum pay for daily wagers, and against the government “increasing access to private players in higher education”.

Says Saurav, “Jobs have been a big issue since the Modi government came… Our main aim has always been working for those who are neglected and the poor.”

In an interview with The Indian Express, CPI (M-L) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya had attributed the party’s performance to the work done by its cadres during the lockdown and “against privatisation”. “A lot of our students and young leaders who won quite handsomely have been involved in the anti-privatisation movement. Bihar students waged a very important battle against railway privatisation.” Six of the 19 candidates fielded by the CPI (M-L) were below the age of 35.

Manoj Manzil, 37, won from Bhojpur’s Agiaon constituency, getting 61% of the votes. (Express photo by Abhinav Rajput)

Manoj Manzil, 37, who won from Bhojpur’s Agiaon constituency, getting 61% of the votes against the JD(U)’s Prabunath Prasad, is also a well-known CPI (M-L) face in the area. A Dalit leader, the first-time MLA would be among the poorest in the current Assembly (he declared assets of over Rs 3 lakh, as per the Association of Democratic Reforms).

Manzil has been raising issues of education, especially the bad condition of schools. Three years ago, he led a ‘Sadak Par School’ movement, holding classes on roads to protest against school infrastructure, which prompted some official response. In 2009, he led protests seeking coaching centres for SC, ST, OBC students, and for better conditions at the Ambedkar Awasiya Vidyalayas.

The CPI (M-L) has been active in the Arrah area for long, and been a part of movements for landless farmers, says Manohar Kumar, a resident, adding that this is why Manzil got votes from across castes.

A former national president of the CPI (M-L)’s Revolutionary Youth Association, Manzil has 10 cases against him. Like Alam, he says the cases stem from the agitations he has led for land and other rights of the poor. In the 2015 elections, Manzil, a post-graduate from Veer Kunwar Singh University, had contested from Agiaon and came third, with 31,789 votes.

Says Sucheta Dey, former national president of AISA: “Bhojpur has a feudal past, with Dalits and the poor at the margins. Manoj’s efforts for good schools resonated with the people.”

The state president of the Revolutionary Youth Association and former AISA Bihar secretary Ajit Kumar Singh Kushwaha, 32, won from Dumraon in south Bihar, defeating the JD(U)’s Anjum Ara by a 14% vote difference. He had led relief efforts during the Covid lockdown.

CPI (M-L) MLA Gopal Ravidas, with declared assets lower than Manzil’s, at over Rs 1 lakh, got over 14,000 votes more than his JD(U) rival in Phulwari. The RJD agreed to give the CPI (M-L) the ticket from here over six-time winning MLA and former JD(U) minister Shyam Rajak.

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