Begusarai (Bihar), Apr 26 : Just step out of Begusarai railway station, one is greeted with CPI posters in favour of new found 'chhatra neta (student leader)' Kanhaiya Kumar. A former JNU students’ union president, Kanhaiya is facing a sedition charge. The posters and the CPI supporters in tea stalls and around say the youthful leader is 'paying' the price for standing up for truth. But they too go 'defensive' when quizzed about 'Tukde Tukde campaign'. The campaign about nationalism and 'action against Pakistan' is quite visible in this township - once an industrial hub and also a 'communists' pocket'.
"Some of the slogans in JNU agitation were wrong and abused. But the ideological battle against BJP's education policy and dictatorial approach is must," said Bappa Dass, a local CPI worker. The CPI workers also make it a point to tell voters in the constituency that they should not waste the vote on RJD nominee Tanveer Hassan. In fact, CPI's decision to field Kanhaiya Kumar from the seat came as a big setback to the Gathbandhan - 'anti-Nitish anti-Modi' alliance politics in Bihar.
Now, both CPI and RJD are campaigning aggressively against each other and many fear this may lead to consolidation of Bhumihar caste and other Hindu votes in favour of the BJP candidate Giriraj Singh.
According to local observers - the retired teachers and local newspaper columnists - "Onetime 'red forte' Begusarai is actually an epitome of caste politics these days". "Thanks to Lalu Prasad's hyped emphasis on caste, Begusarai lost its trade unionism and leftists inclination," says Farooq Naushadbhai, a Madrasa instructor.
But he hastened to add that though BJP won the seat in 2014 when Late Bhola Singh defeated RJD's Tanveer Hassan, the battle is definitely tougher for the saffron nominee and firebrand minister Giriraj Singh.
Bhola Singh's victory margin was 58,000 and CPI's Rajendra Prasad Singh had polled 1,92,630 votes as against 4,28227 by the BJP and 369,892 by RJD candidate.
In some segments, however, the Left influence is still visible. In fact, old timers would tell that Teghra for long was a CPI citadel and used to be also addressed as 'Mini Moscow'.
Since 1962 to 2010, Teghra has voted for CPI nominees only.
"Hence to say, the Left influence does not matter, is not correct," says shopkeeper Asit Bhattacharjee, a Bengali and a known Left sympathiser in the locality. But according to Bhattacharjee, it is also a fact that the Left influence has been on decline consistently.
"The first casualty to the Left and trade union politics came when the local industries suffered in this region. A big portion of our constituency after delimitation in 1970s went to Baliya. Lalu Prasad's emergence brought in different politics in 1990s. The powerful estimated 5-6 lakh voters out of over 17 lakh total electorate are Bhumihars and their politics since 1990s got focused with opposing Lalu Prasad's machinations," says Bhattacharjee.
The Bhumihar community which once stood by the Left slowly drifted to 'religion and caste based politics'. This, he said certainly helped expansion of BJP base slowly. But the contest this time is far from over and the CPI nominee has an edge, he maintains. However, not many would agree to the observations of Left sympathiser.
The BJP supporters and RSS workers in the constituency say when Kanhaiya Kumar's name was announced, there was speculation about division in Bhumihar vote share and that was a matter of worry. "But Kanhaiya's poll management has got little misguided and it is helping the BJP. With celebrities like Javed Akhtar being brought in to campaign. The election has been made largely a pro-Modi and anti-Modi in character. This favours Giriraj Singh, who was initially reluctant to contest from Begusarai, but is now in much enthusiastic mood," says Prasenjit Ranjan, a medical student.
Prasenjit and two of his cousins had attended RSS shakhas even a decade back. Election to this constituency will take place on April 29. In last one week, leaders like Yogendra Yadav, a known psephologist and leader of fledgling outfit Swaraj India visited the constituency and addressed a gathering.
"Soon after the Balakot strikes, I had supported it and said that any self-respecting nation would like to come up with a good response. But the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to use it politically. It is a dangerous thing to do. The people of the country should understand that whenever there have been attempts to use armed forces for political purposes, you may end up getting a military rule," Mr Yadav has said - according to local media reports.
But some citizens say such campaign line is meaningless in Begusarai where people - irrespective of caste and religion - backed the Modi government for surgical strikes and Balakot aerial attacks. "Why these comparisons with Pakistan. It is only helping BJP," remarked a local sweetmaker Munna Lal. People apparently did not like Kanhaiya Kumar's campaign to be guided by planners from Delhi who also brought in lyricist Javed Akhtar to campaign. Like Yadav's 'Pakistan' reference, many voters said they did not like Javed Akhtar making hyperbole speeches. During campaign in favour of Kanhaiya Kumar, Mr Akhtar has said - religion must be kept at bay from politics and pointed out - "...Look at any part of the world the Middle East, Europe or Latin America and you would find a similar trend".
Locals say - these campaigners did not know how much they were actually helping Kanhaiya Kumar's detractors - both Giriraj Singh of BJP and Tanveer Hassan of RJD. Nobody is talking other caste people, who too are vital, notes a senior citizen Amjad Khan, 75.
He points out there are about two lakh non Bhumihar voters like Brahmins and Rajputs. The constituency also has 1.5 lakh Yadavs and about 2.7 lakh Dalit voters. In the ultimate analysis, what people of Begusarai decide - whether to embrace Left ideology again or to continue with the politics of neo-nationalism, caste and being 'Modi admirers' remain in the womb of time. UNI