“Bhumihar comrade”. Outside the CPI office in Begusarai’s Bihat, the phrase makes Rajendra Singh smile. This is a state where the Ranvir Sena, comprising Bhumihars, killed Dalit comrades.
Begusarai, CPI member Amarnath Singh said, has seen no conflict on sectarian lines since Independence. In fact, scores were killed when the Communist Party rose to challenge the Congress’s claim over the district from the late ’60s: Bhumihars fell on both sides, socialist and communist.
Ram Lakhan Singh is the Teghra BJP candidate, who hails from the village. Ram Ratan Singh, the CPI candidate, too lives in Bihat. In Bhola Singh, BJP MP of Begusarai, the CPI at least has a former member who defected. However, Ram Lakhan is entirely a BJP find.
The CPI hopes to reclaim Teghra, which it lost to the BJP in 2010 for the first time since 1962. Cadres were upset when three-time MLA Rajendra Prasad Singh was replaced. As a result, only Bachchwara of Begusarai sent a Left legislator to the assembly in 2010.
“In the Lok Sabha elections, over 80 per cent of the village voted for the BJP, which meant Rajendra Singh came third,” said Smit Parag, bureau incharge of Hindustan newspaper in Begusarai. A Bhumihar, Smit says he is not a member of any party but his family has for long associated itself with the CPM.
The comrades of Bihat say the cadre vote will return. However, “we Bhumihars are worried over what Lalu has been saying. A large number of people could vote to keep him away from power,” said Parag.
Bihat, so large it comprises four panchayats within, turned communist largely under the influence of former MLA Chandrasekhar Singh and to protect its Bhumihars’ interests. “The first agitation was against land acquisition. There was firing when they came to acquire land for the (Barauni) fertiliser plant,” said Rajendra Singh — no relation to the former MLA — one of the old guard.
The Congress declined in the ’90s. “In 1997, Sitaram Kesriji decided to extend support to the Rabri Devi government. Angry, Bhumihars left our party in large numbers. They are now the backbone of the BJP in the district,” said Sachidanand Singh, general secretary of the Congress’ Begusarai unit.