Patna: Actor Swara Bhaskar’s 31st birthday fell on 9 April. But instead of holding a bash in Mumbai, Bhaskar was out on the streets of Begusarai in Bihar, where she was part of the rally after which former JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar filed his nomination for the Lok Sabha elections.
“It’s an unusual way to celebrate a birthday but Kanhaiya Kumar is a friend and he is fighting an important battle,” said Bhaskar.
Bhaskar was part of a host of Left-leaning students, academicians, activists and politicians who were at Tuesday’s roadshow for Kanhaiya — the CPI candidate for the Begusarai Lok Sabha constituency. Others included Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, civil rights activist Teesta Seetalvad, former JNU student union vice-presidents Shehla Rashid and Sarita Choudhary and Nafisa, the mother of missing JNU student Najib.
And more are expected to come.
“Actor Shabana Azmi and her husband, lyricist Javed Akhtar, are set to visit,” CPI state secretary Satyanarayan Singh told The Print. “Actor Prakash Raj has also expressed his willingness to campaign for Kanhaiya. Their dates are yet to be finalised.”
Well-known social activists, Rajmohan Gandhi and Aruna Roy, are also expected to visit the constituency after 15 April when campaigning will peak. Begusarai will vote on 29 April.
“Over a 100 JNU students and a dozen teachers have been campaigning in Begusarai,” former CPI MP from Begusarai, Shatrughan Prasad Singh, told The Print. “They have been so far been holding street corner meetings but from today (Wednesday) they will be holding door-to-door contact. They are a big help for us, especially in capturing the imagination of the youth in the constituency.”
All this has only led to the perception that the battle for Begusarai has turned into an ideological war, one that began when the Modi government slapped a sedition case against Kanhaiya and other JNU students in February 2016.
More so, because the BJP candidate at Begusarai is Union minister Giriraj Singh, a motor-mouth famous for his ‘Go to Pakistan’ remarks. He has already dubbed Kanhaiya as an “anti-national” and the CPI candidate’s campaigners as members of the “Tukde Tukde Gang”.
Outsider Giriraj but Kanhaiya’s real test is alliance candidate
Away from the high-profile roadshows, Kanhaiya’s campaign has stuck to ground realities of the constituency. The CPI candidate has already raised the issue of Singh being an outsider.
“I have some guests from outside who have come to help me. But from BJP there is a reluctant outsider who has filed his nomination papers,” Kanhaiya had said during Tuesday’s rally.
Giriraj originally hails from Lakhisaria district of Bihar whereas Kanhaiya is from Begusarai.
The CPI is also banking on the support of the Bhumihars, the dominant upper caste in the constituency who have traditionally been its supporters.
Begusrai was once a CPI stronghold, even earning the tag the Leningrad of Bihar but the last time the party held this Parliamentary seat was in 1996. Since then, its support base has been shrinking.
“Most of the CPI leaders from Begusrai are Bhumihars, the upper castes dominant in the constituency,” a CPI leader said. “The Bhumihars in Begusarai accept CPI as their party but we realise that Giriraj (a Bhumihar) will also get their votes and that meant for the NDA.”
The real challenge for Kanhaiya, however, will come from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate, Tanvir Hasan, who had an even larger gathering when he went to file his nomination papers.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Tanvir finished second behind the late BJP MP Bhola Prasad Singh, losing by around 60,000 votes. The CPI candidate was at least 1.7 lakh votes behind even Tanvir.
Muslims are the second largest segment in the constituency and supporters of Tanvir now allege that Kanhaiya’s entry has only helped Giriraj Singh. They are also refusing to cede space to the CPI candidate. “Even the votes polled by CPI candidate in 2014 was because the party was allied to Nitish Kumar. This time, Nitish is with the BJP. We will get the Muslim vote and Kanhaiya will stand third,” said a Tanvir supporter.
Even the CPI admits that it will be a tough fight. “The Muslims we visited have told us that they will only switch over to Kanhaiya if they feel he is capable of defeating Giriraj,” said a senior CPI leader.