Adorning Sandeep Sourav’s campaign vehicle in the Paliganj Assembly seat are both colours red and green. Red for the CPI (M-L), and green for the RJD, with the beaming face of Lalu Prasad.
The constituency could be a microcosm for the shifting sands of Bihar Election 2020. The RJD won this seat in 2015, but it has gone to ally CPI (M-L) in the Mahagathbandhan alliance that includes the Congress. Meanwhile, RJD sitting MLA Jai Vardhan Yadav is contesting on the JD(U) ticket, while Usha Vidyarthi, who won Paliganj as a BJP candidate in 2010, is in the race as LJP nominee.
As he walks through the bylanes of Bella village, Sourav, who rose from student politics in JNU, says they are raising issues close to the people like education and employment. “There has been no maintenance of canals so farmers are facing problems… there is no rail connectivity either,” says the 33-year-old.
The unsaid factor helping him is caste. The CPI (M-L) is not new to Paliganj, having won it in 2005 in a close contest. In the next two Assembly polls, 2010 and 2015, it had come third with above 16,000 votes. This time, Sourav is expected to also get the support of Yadavs, the predominant caste in the constituency and the RJD’s vote bank. Sourav himself is a Yadav.
During his campaign stops, he is accompanied by RJD’s Dinanath Yadav, who won the seat in 2000. Amid slogans seeking votes for “teen taara (the M-L symbol)”, Dinanath urges everyone: “Nitish sarkaar ko hataake Tejashwi Yadav ka sarkaar banana hai (We have to remove Nitish and bring Tejashwi to power).”
The call is finding some support even in Harirampur, the village of Jai Vardhan Yadav, the former RJD leader standing on the JD(U) ticket. Jai Vardhan has a strong political legacy, being the grandson of former Union Minister Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav. Naresh Yadav of Harirampur says that while he will vote for Jai Vardhan given the “old loyalty”, the latter would not have it easy. “In this seat, if the Yadavs unite, it is hard for anyone else. People from the community want to see Tejashwi as Chief Minister.”
Jai Vardhan is also up against the fact that ex-BJP leader Usha Vidyarthi will take some NDA votes to the LJP camp. Vidyarthi, who won in 2010 and lost in 2005, is a known face in Paliganj and said to have the backing of the Bhumihars and upper castes. Many BJP cadre are with her despite her switch to the LJP just before the polls after Paliganj went to the JD(U).
Accompanying an autorickshaw canvassing for Vidyarthi, a BJP worker reasons, “She has always been with the BJP. Plus, there is no point backing a Yadav candidate (Jai Vardhan) when the Mahagatbandhan candidate is also a Yadav… The full BJP is with Vidyarthiji.”
While the BJP has been underlining that it has no truck with the LJP, despite president Chirag Paswan avowing loyalty to Narendra Modi, the BJP leader says he sees no contradiction in what he is doing. “If Vidyarthiji wins, she will also back the BJP. So the way we see it, we are backing a candidate that has a chance to win.”
While the social conflict in Paliganj essentially involves the Yadavs and SCs, the CPI (M-L)’s Sourav may also override that. The SCs have consistently stood by the Left party, ensuring it 13% of the votes even at its lowest in Paliganj.
A key CPI (M-L) functionary says they are making extra effort to reach out to the Extremely Backward Classes and poor. “The CPI (M-L) has never lost the confidence of these voters… There are other factors too in the mix, such as the economic distress, which has hit them the hardest… If they stand with the party, then, with the Yadav votes, we have a good chance.”
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