Patna: Begusarai is witnessing an election campaign it hasn’t seen before. And the Parliamentary constituency in central Bihar has its CPI candidate, Kanhaiya Kumar, to thank for it.
Kanhaiya, the former president of the student union at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), has been carrying out some impressive roadshows in cavalcades that consist of at least 10 SUVs — including a minimum of three from media houses — followed by over 500 motorcycle-borne youngsters cutting across caste and creed.
On Wednesday, Kanhaiya’s roadshow brought Bachhwara segment of the Lok Sabha constituency to a standstill. The segment is still considered a stronghold of the CPI.
And it isn’t just the roadshows. Ever since Kanhaiya announced his entry into the electoral battle, Left-oriented intellectuals, politicians and activists, actors and even JNU students have made a beeline for Begusarai.
Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani stayed here for three days, visiting remote villages on a cycle. On the day Kanhaiya filed his nomination papers, actor Swara Bhaskar was among those who accompanied him. Since then, actors Shabana Azmi and Prakash Raj, lyricist Javed Akhtar and prominent Left leaders Sitaram Yechury and D. Raja have camped in the constituency.
Kanhaiya has also managed to crowd-fund around Rs 70 lakh for his campaign before he shut it.
Even as voting day (29 April) approaches, there has been no let up in the intensity of the campaign.
On Wednesday, Shehla Rashid, the former JNUSU vice-president, visited remote villages in the seat.
“At least 50 JNU students are camping in Begusarai. They spend the whole day in remote areas seeking support for Kanhaiya and return in the evening,” said Sandeen Dalvi, who is living in Kanhaiya’s home at Bihat village.
Dalvi hails from Goa and is a musician and an environmental activist. Dalvi has taken 15 days off to campaign for Kanhaiya.
Although there are questions on the effectiveness of the campaign, it has, however, managed to sway one demography — the youth of Begusarai. Many of Begusarai’s younger voters, irrespective of caste or religion, follow the CPI candidate around.
“We have accompanied him shelling out our own money for fuel,” a youngster told ThePrint. “Kanhaiya bhai (brother) is going to win. The RJD and the BJP are fighting for second place.”
‘Still a tall order’
Away from the optics, Kanhaiya may be bounded by the ground realities of a caste-ridden and communally polarised electorate. The CPI candidate has been pitted against Union Minister Giriraj Singh of the BJP and the RJD’s Tanveer Hassan.
Both Kanhaiya and Giriraj are Bhumihars — the upper castes who number around 4.5 lakh in Begusarai. But even CPI leaders concede that Bhumihars and another chunk of Brahmins and Rajputs are backing Giriraj and stress that Kanhaiya draws support from other sections of society.
This consolidation may force Muslims in the constituency to rally behind the RJD’s Tanveer Hassan.
“The NDA voters, particularly the Bhumihars, are not deserting Giriraj. Why should anyone expect us to desert Tanveer?” said a Muslim voter, describing Kanhaiya’s campaigning as hawai hawai (building castles in the air). “When voting takes place on the 29th, it will go bust.”
While the focus is on Giriraj, Hassan could upset the applecart here.
Muslims form a considerable chunk of Begusarai’s voters and there is a perception here that backing Hassan is the best bet to beat the BJP.
“Kanhaiya is contesting these elections like a one-day player. He should play a five-day match. He is still young,” said Sarfaraz Alam, a resident of the Muslim-dominated Pipra Dewas village, located less than 10 km from Kanhaiya’s native village of Bihat.
Kanhaiya was in Pipra Dewas Tuesday. “We garlanded him. After all, he was a guest of the village. But we will vote for Tanveer,” said Ezazul Haq, a resident of the village. “Tanveer is the person we trust. The Muslim youth accompanying him do not have their names in the voter’s list here.”
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Hassan finished second with 3,69,892 votes. The BJP’s Bhola Singh won with 4,28,227 votes. The CPI candidate had then secured around 2 lakh votes but Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had campaigned for the party here.
“In actual terms, Kanhaiya’s support base starts at 1.5 lakh. Giriraj’s support base starts at around 5 lakh. Tanveer’s take off vote too is around 3 lakh,” said a CPI leader. “Even with all the media hype, it will be a tall order to fill that gap.”
Kanhaiya’s rivals also believe traditional politics will prevail. “Kanhaiya’s campaigning does not rub off at the grassroots level,” said an RJD supporter. “The divisions are still sharp on caste and communal lines.”
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