Begusarai in Bihar, which had emerged as the most keenly watched seat in Bihar with former JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar in the fray on a CPI ticket, is set to swing the BJP way. In a major blow to the political debutant, Kumar lost to Union minister and firebrand BJP leader Giriraj Singh in the Lok Sabha elections by over four lakh votes.
The CPI’s hold in the seat, which was once a Left bastion and known as the Leningrad of the state, sharply declined after it failed to win any of the seven assembly seats and also lost the 2014 Parliamentary elections. Between 1956 and 1996, the party had won multiple times from the Lok Sabha seat.
It was the Janata Dal (United) who had registered consecutive victories in 2004 and 2009 here. In 2009, the seat was won by Dr Monazir Hassan who defeated CPI’s Shatrughna Prasad Singh with a vote share margin of 5.7 per cent. In 2004, Rajiv Ranjan won the seat with 44.4 per cent of the votes in a close fight with the Congress’ Krishna Sahi who recorded a vote share of 41.4 per cent.
Pitted against Giriraj Singh and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tanweer Hassan, the CPI was banking on Kanhaiya for the party’s revival in the constituency. Singh was earlier miffed with his party over changing his seat from Nawada, a seat which he had won in 2014. However, the party stood firm on his candidature with BJP chief Amit Shah extending his wishes and saying “all his (Singh) problems will be solved by the party”.
Despite several attempts, the RJD had refused to back the former JNUSU leader as in 2014, Hassan had bagged 3.69 lakh votes despite the Modi wave. This is why the party had decided to go alone again for the second time.
Besides this, Hassan was believed to be a popular face, mostly among the Yadavs and Muslims in the region. Congress, RJD, Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and Hindustani Awam Morcha are in a grand alliance in the state.
In 2014, the BJP had managed to make inroads into the seat for the first time after its candidate Bhola Singh won the Lok Sabha elections by winning by 39.70 per cent of the votes cast in this constituency. The seat, however, fell vacant, after his death last year.
Kanhaiya had become a national figure after he was arrested on charges of sedition for allegedly chanting anti-India slogans during an event organised to protest the hanging of 2001 Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. The 32-year-old PhD scholar, a resident of Beehat Panchayat in Barauni block, was produced before Delhi’s Patiala House Court in 2016 and while he was in jail, earned the support of several students and activists. However, for a section of the people, he was an anti-national figure whose motives raised doubts among several.
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Several senior Left leaders, including national general secretary D Raja, had campaigned for the former JNU leader. CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, followed by film writer Javed Akhtar and his wife and Shabana Azmi. Actor Prakash Raj and Lok Sabha candidate from Bangalore Central also campaigned for Kanhaiya in Begusarai.
In 2014, the seat had registered a voter turnout of 60.60%. While the male voter turnout was 57.49%, the female was 64.16%. A total of 12 candidates were in the fray. The participation of women candidates in this seat was one.
Begusarai went to polls in the fourth phase this election.
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