Lok Sabha Elections 2024 | In 'Leningrad of Bihar', Left contends with saffron surge

The BJP fielded Union Minister Giriraj Singh again from Begusarai, while CPI nominated Awadhesh Rai, as the united opposition candidate in the seat where the situation has changed much compared to that in 2019.
Last Updated : 01 May 2024, 09:24 IST
Last Updated : 01 May 2024, 09:24 IST

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Begusarai: A strong presence of the Left had earned Begusarai the epithet “Leningrad of Bihar” but the Red brigade here is now grappling with the saffron surge.

The BJP fielded Union Minister Giriraj Singh again from Begusarai, while CPI nominated Awadhesh Rai, as the united opposition candidate in the seat where the situation has changed much compared to that in 2019.

But the key change, the mindset of the voters, was noticed even earlier.

The ideological drift was, perhaps, best witnessed in the watershed elections of 2014, when the seat was won by late Bhola Singh on a BJP ticket, decades after he had begun his political career as an MLA of the CPI.

Five years later, with Bhola Singh no more, the BJP brought in here Giriraj Singh, an “outsider” who inflicted a crushing defeat on “local” Kanhaiya Kumar.

The electoral battle this time is not as eyeball-grabbing as it was in 2019, thanks to the electrifying presence of Kanhaiya Kumar, who had launched a spirited campaign, to which many celebrities like Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Swara Bhaskar and Prakash Raj had lent their heft.

The CPI debutant, who has since moved to the Congress which has fielded him from Delhi Northeast, was badly hit by the RJD’s decision to field its own candidate who cut into the anti-BJP votes, offering Giriraj Singh a victory on the platter, with a margin of over four lakh votes.

Five years down the line, though, many variables seem to have changed. The “outsider” tag against Singh, who hails from Barahiya in Lakhisarai district, right across the Ganges, may no longer stand. But the absence of an over-arching narrative of nationalism fuelled by the Pulwama terror attack leaves the union minister devoid of the ballast that he would have liked for his dog-whistling rhetoric.

Moreover, unlike in 2019, the RJD, arguably the strongest regional party in Bihar, is not trying to play spoilsport this time. Its chemistry with the Left has also been tried and tested in the 2020 assembly polls when CPI(ML), CPI and CPI(M) together came out with a better-than-expected performance.

In the assembly polls, the CPI bagged two seats, both in Begusarai, where the RJD also notched up as many, while the BJP-JD(U) combine could win only three.

Unlike predecessor Bhola Singh who was a party-hopper, having tried his luck in a number of parties before joining the BJP, Giriraj Singh is a dyed-in-the-wool RSS man, who had earned his spurs as an ABVP activist.

Tall and powerfully built, the Union minister has proudly prefixed “Shandilya”, his “gotra”, to his profile on X, and moves around sporting a fiery red “tilak” on his broad forehead and a tuft of hair dangling from the crown, warning all those who come his way that here is a man who wears his Hindutva on his sleeve.

Singh’s incendiary election speeches in 2014 had earned him a 48-hour ban by the Election Commission which again censured him five years later for utterances targeting a particular community.

The hardliner is clearly unfazed as was evident from the speech he gave after he filed his nomination papers, declaring, with unmatched swagger, “We do not need the votes of pro-Pakistan traitors."

A complaint was promptly raised before the EC by veteran CPI leader Shatrughan Singh who highlighted communal overtones in the BJP leader’s speech and claimed that if the union minister had, indeed, credible information that Begusarai had “pro-Pakistan elements” then he must be tried for not raising the matter with the authority at his command.

A video recently went viral in which Singh can be seen accosted by locals seeking an apology for 'calling the people of Begusarai deshdrohi (traitors)'.

"We voted for you despite you being an outsider. A son of our soil (Kanhaiya) lost to you. But you did nothing for the area. Now you should apologise for using such language", they can be heard saying in the local dialect.

"Am I not a son of Begusarai", Singh replies, with indignation writ large on his face.

Notably, the CPI is also Singh’s principal challenger, with former MLA Awadhesh Rai as the party candidate.

The choice of Rai, an OBC Yadav, appears counterintuitive in a seat which has, so far, always elected an upper caste Bhumihar, except in 2009 when JD(U)'s Monazir Hassan became the Begusarai MP.

The RJD, which has been the most preferred party of the numerically powerful Yadavs, seems all too mindful of the challenge. A reason why the RJD's de facto leader Tejashwi Yadav accompanied Rai when he filed nomination papers.

Yadav targeted Giriraj Singh for "doing nothing except Hindu versus Muslims in the last five years."

The RJD leader also asked voters, at an election rally, 'Do not trust Prime Minister Narendra Modi's guarantee. These people are like Chinese goods which come with no guarantee'.

On May 13, when electors will cast their votes in Begusarai, they will, among other things, demonstrate whether the chemistry between RJD and Left is potent enough in a parliamentary election.

The constituency has 21.86 lakh eligible voters.

Published 01 May 2024, 09:24 IST

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