Patna: Bihar has a total of 40 Lok Sabha seats, which enough to decide the fate of a government in New Delhi, and this eastern Indian state has always taken a pioneering role in it.
However, one seat that is constantly drawing the attention of the entire country this time is Begusarai — not because it was once known as the “industrial capital” of Bihar, which took the trade union movement to a new height, but because of a young man who has virtually become the rallying point for his generation for his oratorical skills, logical talk and focus on the issues of the common man.
Meet Kanhaiya Kumar, former president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union who has turned the battle for Begusarai into a classic David versus the Goliath tale for taking on the mighty politicians from two front-line political parties despite having humble background. Kanhaiya who has been fielded by the Communist Party of India (CPI) is locked in a triangular fight with firebrand Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and federal minister Giriraj Singh and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate Tanveer Hasan.
You know I have just two minutes to say everything lest I miss other villages. Imagine my problem.
Money is important for shaping any political movement and the first thing that Kanhaiya did was to raise funds to launch his political campaigns since his party was not in a position to provide him the kind of financial support needed. So he turned to crowdfunding to raise funds. His target was to collect Rs7 million (Dh370,554) — the maximum limit of expenditure fixed by the Election Commission of India.
“I thought the battle for the general masses should be fought from their money too and turned to this idea,” said Kanhaiya. Much against his expectation, the idea became so hit that he collected Rs3 million in just two days itself with scores of people across the country liberally donating money to help him stay in the race. Suddenly, he faced cyber attacks on his website and he had to stop that but finally, he achieved that task too. According to him, he received donations between Rs100 to Rs500,000 but the maximum donation number was struck with a bill of Rs100.
Today, Kanhaiya has become a household name in his constituency. People don’t recognise him as a leader of the “Tukde, Tukde” gang (this slogan was allegedly raised in 2016 in the JNU campus while he was students’ union chief and had to go to jail for sedition charges) but a fiery young man who always raises their basic issues and doesn’t speak like a politician.
'Ray of hope'
“Brave Kanhaiya is a ray of hope of the nation” and other slogans greet Kanhaiya as he travels through every village in his constituency to seek the support of the villagers. His work starts early in the morning and continues till late evening as he tries to cover at least 30 villages in a day with the objective to visit every village before campaigning comes to an end. Begusarai goes to polls in the fourth phase on April 29.
40Lok Sabha seats in Bihar state, making it a heavyweight
But he has encountered a unique problem — how to satisfy every voter who wants him to speak something in their favour. “Wherever I go, the people begin insisting on ‘kuchh boliye’ (say something) and I can’t disappoint them. You know I have just two minute-time to say everything lest I will miss other villages. Imagine my problem,” says Kanhaiya.
The young man surrounded by youngsters launches his campaign through a small car and addresses the crowd through the car’s sunroof wherever it becomes necessary. That he is a local boy and speaks in the common man’s language other advantages he has. People rush to garland him and also arrange food for his campaign team - it's a measure that has kept his hopes up in a place that was once known as the “Leningrad of Bihar” because of the pressence of a strong left. Now, the entry of Kanhaiya has once again revived hope of the Left leaders.
“He is like my son, he cares about the poor … he has won elections in advance,” says a village woman, indicating the kind of support he has been getting from the villagers. Although he comes from the upper caste Bhumihar community, he is getting support from every caste, community and religion which has enthused him.
Rs3msum Kanhaiya raised within two days of launching appeal
Apparently that was the reason the BJP candidate Singh had initially refused to contest from this seat and wanted to return to his old Nawada seat which he currently represents in the Lok Sabha. His main apprehension is that his fellow Bhumihar voters who dominate the constituency may get split between him and Kanhaiya, minimising his victory chances in the elections. And if that happened, the third one — the RJD candidate — could obviously emerge as the winner. Moreover, in the last election, the RJD candidate had lost the elections with just 58,000 votes even at the peak of the Narendra Modi wave. Although only time will tell who will be the ultimate winner in the game but the contest has turned interesting in this central Bihar seat.
“This is not the fight for electing someone as the Member of the Parliament; rather it is for saving country’s democratic process. We are fighting to save the country,” explains Kanhaiya.
PROFILES OF CANDIDATES
KANHAIYA KUMAR, CPI
Former JNU Students’ Union chief is contesting the parliamentary elections for the first time. Kanhaiya who hails from local Bihat village in Begusarai district has been fielded by the CPI and has won fans across all castes, community and religions. He hit the headlines but for the wrong reason after his name figured in the 2016 incident during which a protest march held in the JNU campus to commemorate the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru shouted ant-national slogans. Subsequently, he was sent to jail in sedition charges. Earlier this year, the Delhi police charged him with sedition in the 1200-page charge-sheet. However, he has termed the charge-sheet as politically-motivated.
GIRIRAJ SINGH, BJP
Firebrand BJP leader infamous for making controversial statements has been contesting from upper caste-dominated Begusarai seat this time since his sitting Nawada seat was given to a BJP ally under the seat-sharing deal. He is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and it was because of this association that he was given a berth in Modi cabinet. He is contesting the LS polls only for the second time. He has the experience to fight both the state and national elections and was also a minister in the NDA government in Bihar before he was promoted to national politics.
TANVEER HASAN, RJD
A well educated person, Hasan comes from the social stream in politics spanning over four decades. He remained close to socialist leader Karpoori Thakur and later joined the parent Janata Dal when it came to power in Bihar in 1990. He has been the party for the past three decades and served the party in various positions. In the last LS polls, the RJD fielded him from the Begusarai seat but he lost with a narrow margin owing to split in secular votes. He has again been fielded by the party and he hoped to make gain the fight between Kanhaiya and Giriraj, both coming from the same caste.