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Routed in old bastions, traditional Left receives lessons on unity in Hindi belt

In Bihar's Karakat, veteran radical Left leader Raja Ram Singh Kushwaha beat another NDA stalwart, former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha, in a three-cornered contest that included Rashtriya Lok Morcha candidate and Bhojpuri singer Pawan Singh.
Last Updated : 30 June 2024, 00:36 IST

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The Lok Sabha poll outcome in the Hindi belt, particularly in Bihar, seems to have offered a tiny ray of hope for the traditional Left, which is in power only in Kerala and has practically vanished from its old bastions West Bengal and Tripura. 

Bihar is no stranger to Left politics, particularly of the radical variety. The state’s economic backwardness and low human development index have always been a fertile ground to fire up the Left imagination.     

When the Naxalite movement was raging in faraway Bengal in the late 1960s, the Musahari block in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, too, was on the boil, where local peasants were determined to create another Hunan — the Chinese province from where Mao Zedong had risen as a revolutionary communist. 

In the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls, the germs of this perpetual dissidence flared up yet again when the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation registered big victories in two Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. In Arrah, Liberation’s Sudama Prasad, 63, stunned two-time BJP sitting MP and Union power minister R K Singh.

In Karakat, veteran radical Left leader Raja Ram Singh Kushwaha beat another NDA stalwart, former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha, in a three-cornered contest that included Rashtriya Lok Morcha candidate and Bhojpuri singer Pawan Singh. 

Sudama Prasad and Raja Ram Singh belong to humble backgrounds. While Sudama began life as a sweetmeat shop owner, and later became a farmer leader, Raja Ram studied engineering before he went headlong into Left politics.

The two constituencies — Arrah in west Bihar’s Bhojpur belt and Karakat in central Bihar — have been old springboards of the Left movement since the 1960s.

"The victory of CPI (ML) Liberation in two seats in Bihar will become the vehicle for the new rise of the Left in the Hindi belt," Liberation leaders announced, adding for good effect that even the Sikar parliamentary constituency in Rajasthan had gone to the CPM. The two Left parties have never been great friends.  

There is little doubt that this Leftward lurch in the Hindi belt is part of a coalition network, the CPI (ML) Liberation being tied up with the I.N.D.I.A bloc. Add to it the committed individuals, who have waged an uphill battle against all odds. 

Sudama Prasad has twin identities — one as a CPI (ML) Liberation figurehead and the other as an OBC leader. 

In the 2015 Assembly polls, Prasad won from Tarari, and retained it in 2020. As an MLA, he has raised farmer issues and been pushing for registration of bataidars (sharecroppers).

Like Prasad, Obra MLA Raja Ram was not much of a pre-election favourite as the chatterati was mesmerised by the contest between Upendra Kushwaha and Pawan Singh. A BTech from the Bihar College of Engineering (now NIT, Patna), he is a well-known farmer leader and has been an office-bearer of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha. That he too is a Kushwaha could certainly not have gone against him. 

There are important lessons here. While it is tempting to get swayed by the larger national rhetoric, local issues count for a lot. But when the subject of the BJP changing the Constitution came up, its resonance could be felt nationwide.

The performance by the Left in Bihar is by no means a one-off. In 1989, the Indian People’s Front (IPF) — the open mass front of the CPI(ML) Liberation — had won two Lok Sabha seats, Arrah being one of them. There is a significant difference though — in 1989, they were against the Congress; this time they were part of the I.N.D.I.A. group, with Congress on the driving seat.  

There has been concrete evidence of an emerging Left vote bank in Bihar, perhaps more than any Hindi-speaking state. In the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections, the Left parties won 16 of the 29 seats they contested under the Mahagathbandhan umbrella. Even though the alliance failed to dislodge the NDA, the CPI, CPM and the CPI (ML) Liberation did emerge as big gainers. 

While the CPI and the CPM won two each out of the six and four seats, respectively, they contested, it was the CPI(ML) Liberation’s victory in 12 of the 19 seats — with a strike rate of 63%, second only to the BJP’s 67% — that set the cat among the pigeons.

But that is hardly a surprise. Even as late as 1995, the Left parties routinely sent 25-35 MLAs to the Bihar Assembly, with 20-25 seats accruing to the CPI alone. This traditional Left base of the CPI-CPM was gradually co-opted by Lalu Yadav in the 1990s.  

Even as the CPI and CPM vote base eroded, the CPI(ML) Liberation, which was formed in 1973, continued to win five-six seats in each election. It never aligned with any mainstream party, deciding to do so for the first time in the 2020 Bihar Assembly elections.

There is increasingly a realisation in the CPI (ML) circles that contesting polls alone would not do, despite their grassroots support. It would do well to tie up with the larger parties. It’s a conclusion that has paid dividends and one that communist parties across the spectrum could learn from.    

(The author is a senior journalist and author of Maoism in India and Nepal)

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Published 30 June 2024, 00:36 IST

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