In popular Bihari Marxist lexicon, Begusarai was known as the ‘Leningrad of Bihar’.
So, it sounds logical that the poster boy of the Communist Party of India, Kanhaiya Kumar, is fighting the Lok Sabha election from this constituency. However, it won’t break the status quo. The landed Bhumihars, the caste to which Kumar belongs, have always dominated the politics of Begusarai.
Interestingly when union minister Giriraj Singh, also a Bhumihar, was asked by the BJP to contest from this seat, he refused. After much dilly-dallying, he has been asked by party president Amit Shah to stay put in Begusarai.
If the Begusarai seat remains with the Bhumihars, it will be no departure from tradition. Even if Kanhaiya Kumar wins, the only change will be that the seat will now be held by a progressive-sounding Bhumihar who utters ‘Jai Bhim’ and ‘Lal Salam’ in the same breath.
The Leningrad of Bihar
No socialist proletariat revolution has ever happened in Begusarai, nor is there any remote possibility of such a revolution happening there. Even during the Naxalbari days, Begusarai remained silent, as if nothing was happening in the country. Nearby, in Mushahari of Muzaffarpur district and in the ‘flaming fields’ of central Bihar, the Naxalites tried to mobilise the lower peasantry, but Begusarai was not bothered.
So, what can be the rationale behind calling Begusarai the ‘Leningrad of Bihar’? Begusarai is one of the unique areas in Bihar where the Communist Party of India still has some hold and has won some assembly elections. Although it has failed to win a Lok Sabha election here, the lack of a success story anywhere else in Bihar made the CPI love the idea of Begusarai.
If CPI’s Kanhaiya Kumar wins this battle, it will be the first such win for the party in Begusarai. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, CPI candidate Rajendra Prasad Singh got 17.8 per cent of the vote share and stood third after the BJP and the RJD. In that sense, Kanhaiya winning this seat will be a departure from the norm in the political sphere at least.
But it won’t be a break from the past.
A Bhumihar bastion
Begusarai has always seen a Bhumihar-Brahmin win the seat, no matter the party. The only exception was 2009 elections, when a Muslim candidate won the seat. In 2014, a Bhumihar candidate, Bhola Singh, from the BJP won in Begusarai. He was earlier associated with the CPI and then switched sides. His ideology changed, but his caste affiliation continued.
Begusarai was never a bastion of the Communists, but it has always been a bastion of the dominant Bhumihar-Brahmins. The leadership of the Bihar unit of the CPI always came from this caste, so they see their domination as the domination of Left politics.
However, the CPI has never been a radical force in Bihar, neither in politics nor in the sphere of social change.
Sahajanand Saraswati, a Bhumihar himself, formed the All India Kisan Sabha in 1936 and mobilised his caste men to claim land rights. The Kisan Sabha later became a frontal organisation of the CPI. This is the genesis of the hegemonic position Bhumihars enjoys in the Bihar unit of the CPI.
Incidentally, the same caste group was instrumental in the worst caste oppression of the landless labourers, mostly Dalits and lower OBCs. In the 1990s, Bhumihar landowners formed the Ranvir Sena under the leadership of a criminal, Brahmeshwar Singh, which was responsible for some of the worst Dalit massacres in Bihar.
Brahmeshwar Singh was lodged in jail for a few years and when he was released, he was gunned down. The Bhumihars launched a massive protest in Patna and burned many buses and shops in one of the worst urban violence incidents the city had witnessed. Bhumihar organisations still celebrate Singh’s death anniversary as ‘martyr’ day.
The CPI never saw any contradiction between organising landless labourers and having a party structure dominated by upper castes, especially the Bhumihars. In this backdrop, it sounds absurd that a Communist party is being headed by this social group and still claiming to usher in a new dawn for the poorest of the poor.
Caste blind upper castes
Kanhaiya Kumar belongs to the same Bhumihar caste. He may say that he does not have a caste, but that’s moot. The Bhumihars surely consider him as one of their own. Caste blindness is a privilege that only the upper castes enjoy because they are not the victims of the caste system, and have access to many privileges due to their position. They can afford to ignore their caste. When asked by a BBC journalist about how his caste has benefitted him, Kanhaiya was baffled and posed the same question back to the upper caste journalist. Both of them laughed it away.
This reminds us of what Dr B.R. Ambedkar had once famously said: “You may argue that there are secular Brahmins and priestly Brahmins, and if the latter do not take up the cudgels on behalf of those who want to break caste, the former will. All this, of course, sounds very plausible. But in all this, it is forgotten that the break-up of the caste system is bound to adversely affect the Brahmin caste. Having regard to this, is it reasonable to expect that the Brahmins will ever consent to lead a movement, the ultimate result of which is to destroy the power and prestige of the Brahmin caste? Is it reasonable to expect the secular Brahmins to take part in a movement directed against the priestly Brahmins? In my judgment, it is useless to make a distinction between the secular Brahmins and priestly Brahmins. Both are kith and kin. They are two arms of the same body, and one is bound to fight for the existence of the other”
Kanhaiya won the election of JNUSU despite his organisation, AISF, being non-existent there. Now, he has a better chance of winning the ‘Bhumihargrad’ that is Begusarai.
The author is a senior journalist.