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Bihar polls: Congress’s man on the ground in Riga seeks to emerge above caste equations

Amit Kumar aka Tunnubhai is a Rajput but said, “As far as I am concerned, I need everyone’s vote to win. Which is why I am with the Congress — as far as they are concerned, my caste does not matter.”

Written by Deepu Sebastian Edmond | Sitamarhi |
Updated: November 4, 2015 12:00:46 am
bihar polls, bihar elections, riga, bjp, bjp bihar elections, bihar elections 2015, bihar elections campaign, bihar election phase, bihar polls phase, india news, news ‘Tunnu’ in Riga. (Source: Express Photo by Deepu Sebastian Edmond)

At Ramnagara, an elderly woman walked up to Amit Kumar. Before the Congress candidate of Sitamarhi district’s Riga could make an appeal for her vote, she placed a demand: she’s building a house. Kumar, known as Tunnubhai in these parts, worked himself out of the awkward moment. “I can’t give you anything now. Come after the elections. Maybe I can get you a sack of cement.”

Kumar is a Rajput but told The Indian Express, “As far as I am concerned, I need everyone’s vote to win. Which is why I am with the Congress — as far as they are concerned, my caste does not matter.”

If Riga were to vote on caste lines, the Congress would lose the seat. Rajputs are inclined to vote for the BJP across the state; even then, Rajputs are not among the most populous castes. The sitting legislator, BJP candidate Motilal Prasad, is of the Teli caste and his “Vaish” community — the BJP’s traditional vote bank — is the largest bloc. Next come Yadavs, represented by the RJD on the Congress’s side, but the Yadavs and Rajputs never see eye-to-eye. The backward-forward grand narrative breaks down around Kumar.

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He believes the Congress lets him be his own man: “I don’t have to worry about balancing caste equations. Look at Madam (Sonia Gandhi). She could have been PM, but she let someone from a minority community take up the position.”

Despite caste calculations not going its way, the Congress considers Riga a winnable seat. Kumar, 38, was was the Youth Congress president of Ranchi district in 2003 before moving to his village to further his political ambitions.

Kumar has knuckled down after losing to Motilal Prasad in 2010. “He made himself so much more visible than the MLA and was available for any need. When a Yadav basti burnt to the ground, Kumar almost lived there, helping them for a week,” said a reporter with a Hindi news channel.

The Rajputs are not necessarily behind their man. “I pretended to be supporting Tunnu and asked Rajputs in the adjacent village whether they will be voting for haath-chaap. They were angry with him; the Rajputs didn’t attend Rahul Gandhi’s Riga rally. They travelled to Sitamarhi for Modiji’s rally the next day,” said Baidyanath Prasad, former mukhiya of Ramnagara.

At his speech in Supi, Kumar gave instances of helping people of the area: “When there was an accident here last week, you called the vidhayak and you called me. Who called up the station-in-charge and helped you get the vehicle back?” He took on the opposition charge of being a bahubali in the making: “I am no dabang, I am no dalal. If they want to call me a dabang because I fight for you, let it be.” Kumar’s election affidavit says he has two cases against him; charges against him include offences under IPC 322, 504 and 327, the last being for voluntarily causing hurt to extort property.

“I am of a forward caste, but last year, I helped the son of a Vaish rickshawpuller get into IIT-Raipur,” said the Congress candidate. Both he and the party have been reaching out aggressively to the Dalits of Riga. When Rahul visited, he was accompanied by former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar; they brought up the killings of Dalit children in Haryana in their speeches. Even Amit Kumar said he was the only one who stood with the Dalits in their time of need.

At the end of the day, Kumar said he has his eyes firmly on the ground: “I know the Congress will not be a big player in the state. We may not be in the government. It does not matter to me — I just want to get some work done. I have done work even without being an MLA. If I get elected, only the scale goes up.”

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