In Begusarai, Dalit and MBC votes are as important as Bhumihar votes

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A split in Bhumihar votes could ensure RJD candidate’s win. However, Dalit and MBC votes would also decide who wins the Begusarai seat

MD Khursheed Akbar

Photo: Screengrab

The general election in Begusarai has been projected by media as the only high-profile political battle seat in Bihar. After the negotiation between Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Communist Party of India (CPI) for Mahagathbadhan (grand-alliance) candidate in Begusarai ended, both the parties have fielded their own candidates. The RJD, the biggest party in the Mahagathbadhan in Bihar, has fielded Tanveer Hasan as their candidate in Begusarai. Tanveer Hasan is an old guard and vice-president of the Bihar state unit of RJD. He lost in the Loksabha election of 2014 during the “Modi wave” with a considerably low margin of 5 per cent votes to the BJP candidate Bhola Singh (former CPI member). Mr. Hasan had a 16 per cent margin over the then CPI candidate Rajendra Prasad Singh. This time CPI has fielded their media sensation and former Jawaharlal Nehru University Student’s Union President Kanhaiya Kumar as Begusarai Loksabha seat candidate. Meanwhile, BJP has fielded a controversial leader Giriraj Singh as their candidate from Begusarai. Initially, it was reported that Giriraj Singh did not want to contest from the Begusarai seat because he belongs to the same Bhumihar caste as Kanhaiya Kumar. A split in Bhumihar votes could ensure RJD candidate’s win. Singh had visited Amit Shah to get back his previous constituency Nawada. However, he was told to contest from Begusarai to avoid any further embarrassment to BJP.

Begusarai is going to poll on April 29. Poll campaigns have reached a high. The triangular contest in Begusarai has attracted too much media attention. However, in the media coverage of the Begusarai election, the RJD candidate has got very little attention or space. Certain mainstream media had projected this triangular contest as a two-candidate battle between the CPI candidate Kanhaiya Kumar and the BJP candidate Giriraj Singh. They totally neglected the presence of the RJD candidate Tanveer Hasan. Even those media outlets, which claim to represent the voice of the marginalised, have given very little attention to the RJD candidate.

The campaign for the phase four election is now in its final stage. The battle between RJD and CPI seems to have become the battle of perception. Both of these parties have been projecting themselves as the deserving rival of BJP. Their main targets are groups such as Muslims, Dalits and OBCs. Both of these parties have left the core BJP vote bank untouched. In 2014, the winning BJP candidate Bhola Singh got around 40 per cent of the total votes polled, the RJD candidate Tanveer Hasan got around 34 per cent of the total votes and the CPI candidate Rajendra Prasad Singh got around 18 per cent of the total votes.

Source: Election Commission of India

Even though Kanhaiya Kumar belongs to Bhumihar caste, it doesn’t seem apparent that he has been campaigning with the same enthusiasm in Bhumihar areas as in Muslim and Dalit areas. Kanhaiya Kumar got many star campaigners such as Jignesh Mevani, Shehla Rashid, Javed Akhtar, etc to campaign for him in Begusarai. Most of these campaigners either belong to Muslim or Dalit community. It is interesting to see that hardly any star campaigner of Kanhaiya Kumar comes from Bhumihar caste. Begusarai has considerably high Bhumihar caste voters at around 19 per cent whereas 15 per cent voters are Muslim voters, 12 per cent Yadav voters, 7 per cent Kurmi voters and rest of the voters are from Dalit, Most Backward Castes (MBC) and forward castes. Going by the vote shares of different political parties in past, it would not only be Bhumihar votes but Dalit and MBC votes would also decide who wins the Begusarai seat.

Source: Different reports (approximate value)

Given the ground reports from Begusarai, it seems BJP’s core vote bank is intact. In that case, Giriraj Singh needs to hope for some surplus votes to win the constituency. On the other hand CPI and RJD have been fighting a battle of perception for anti-BJP votes. RJD’s traditional voters, who are unaffected from media and social media debates, would go with its candidate Tanveer Hasan. A good number of the youth, which has been more attracted towards media coverage of the Begusarai poll, might go with the CPI candidate Kanhaiya Kumar. Given the past record of CPI in the constituency, it would be very difficult for Kanhaiya Kumar to get the second position in Begusarai, let alone win the seat.

(The author is a research scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and has interests in Pasmanda, Dalit and Bahujan politics)