New Delhi: Bihar has a reputation for the muscle and money power prevalent in its politics, but a new breed of politicians is out to change that. Two of them are challenging the BJP’s 25-year hold on the Bankipur seat (Patna West until 2008) — one is an Oxford-educated former government official Manish Barriarr, while the other is London School of Economics alumna Pushpam Priya Choudhary.
They are up against three-time sitting MLA Nitin Nabin, whose father Nabin Kishore Prasad Sinha held the seat before him.
A third young candidate from Bankipur is actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha’s son Luv Sinha, who is making his debut on a Congress ticket. The fourth challenger is the BJP’s own rebel, Sushma Sahu.
ThePrint looks at how the battle for Bankipur — one of the BJP’s safest seats in Bihar — is shaping up ahead of polling, which will be held in the second phase of the assembly elections on 3 November.
Barriarr, the son of a high court lawyer, is an MBA from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, and studied at Oxford under the Organisation Leadership Programme. He served as an ‘A’-grade official of the Ministry of Commerce, but soon returned to Patna and started tutoring management aspirants.
Now, at age 44, he has decided to contest from Bankipur as an Independent candidate to change the face of education in Bihar, which he says is “most neglected”. He also says his idea is to launch a political party called VOXx, a take on the Latin word vox which means ‘voice’.
“See the state of affairs in our educational institutions. There are no quality teachers in schools and colleges. Once you change that, everything else will fall in line,” Barriarr said.
Asked how he was funding his candidacy, Barriarr added: “My friends and former classmates have started crowd-funding. We will have enough money to fight, but money is not the issue. The issue is how these political parties have ignored real change. When I meet people, they say there is need for people like me in politics. Let’s see whether they vote for me or not.”
Pushpam Priya Choudhary
Pushpam Priya Choudhary, 33, is being even more ambitious. The LSE alumna is the daughter of Vinod Choudhary, a JD(U) leader, but she has decided to launch her own party, called Plurals, for her electoral debut.
The Plurals party has fielded more than 25 candidates — though Pushpam Priya Choudhary’s original decision was to contest all 243 seats, many of her candidates’ nominations were rejected on technical grounds, while others “disappeared” before the nomination after allegedly being pressured by other powerful candidates, she claimed.
But that hasn’t dimmed her enthusiasm. Choudhary has taken out two full-page advertisements and put up billboards in Patna since March, grabbing the attention of some political heavyweights too. She has pitched herself as a chief ministerial candidate.
“I am here to change the politics of Bihar. Powerful people have been pressurising our candidates to withdraw; some of didn’t turn up at last moment at the behest of criminals,” Choudhary told ThePrint.
“I had decided to give 50 per cent tickets to women, but many refused to fight at the last moment. But that’s what I’m here… Whatever the result, I will not flee from here.”
She and her friends are also crowd-funding their campaign. “In Bihar politics, money is not the problem. The biggest problem is muscle power. Despite ‘Sushasan Babu’ (man of good governance, a moniker for CM Nitish Kumar) being in power, criminals are contesting elections, pressuring others to withdraw nominations… How can any society grow in these circumstances?” Choudhary asked.
“Bihar is failed state… Why blame only Lalu? All are failed policy-makers. They think it’s the job of bureaucrats,” she said.
“Go and see the quality of education, the quality of teachers… There are no jobs, no industry. I want to change that quality of leadership and governance. I was happy in London, but when I was touring the state for my research paper, I saw the quality of governance, which propelled me to come to India,” Choudhary added.
While he was with the BJP, actor-turned-politician Shatrughan Sinha was Rajya Sabha MP for 12 years, and then represented Patna Sahib in the Lok Sabha from 2009 to 2019. Now that he’s in the Congress, the party has decided to field his son, 37-year-old Luv Sinha, from Bankipur.
More than 25 per cent of voters in this constituency belong to the Kayastha community, which the Sinhas belong to. Kayasthas are traditionally BJP voters, and were a big factor in Shatrughan Sinha’s wins in 2009 and 2014, and his defeat to Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad of the BJP in 2019. Prasad is also a Kayastha.
An adviser to Shatrughan Sinha said: “We are banking on the Kayastha vote and division in the upper caste vote. Shatrughan Sinha will campaign, but it is not decided if Luv’s sister Sonakshi Sinha will campaign… She has not campaigned in any election so far, but the fight is tough.”
However, a senior BJP leader said Luv is a newcomer who doesn’t have his father’s brand value, and will not be able to dent the BJP.
What they’re up against — BJP’s dominance
The BJP’s confidence is rooted in how strong incumbent MLA Nitin Nabin is, and how the Patna Sahib Lok Sabha seat and its constituent Bankipur are BJP strongholds.
Nitin Nabin himself said “Patna Sahib is the BJP’s fortress, and Bankipur is the crown inside the fortress”.
A three-time winner since 2005, he is the son of late BJP leader Nabin Kishore Sinha, who earlier represented this seat.
“They will come and go, but I have been here for the last 30 years. My relationship with voters is like a family. Many candidates have been trying to snatch this seat but they have not succeeded,” the MLA said.