Vinod Chaudhary, a BJP supporter in Dalsingh Sarai, says "a strong Modi wave" is needed for Rai to win from here. Asked if such a wave is there, he says reflectively, "There is a current but who knows how strong it is."
An energetic campaign boosted by his image of being a trenchant critic of the Modi government has propelled CPI’s Kanhaiya Kumar into the centre stage of electoral contest in Begusarai seat but many see his rising graph posing a bigger threat to the opposition RJD than the ruling BJP. The BJP supporters in Begusarai and other Lok Sabha seats in the region, which will vote on April 29, assert that the appeal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains a big draw for voters, while the opposition’s alliance is hoping to counter it with its social arithmetic at several places.
If the Modi factor is powering the BJP’s campaign, the alliance of the Lalu Prasad’s RJD, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP and the Congress is betting on a formidable social equation in these seats, including Ujiarpur, where Kushwaha is taking on Bihar BJP chief Nityanand Rai to make the going difficult for the saffron party. Both Ujiarpur and Begusarai were won by the BJP in 2014. In the 2014 polls, BJP’s Bhola Singh, who died in October last year, had defeated Lalu Prasad-led RJD’s Tanveer Hasan, who is again in the fray, with a margin of 5.4 per cent votes (more than 58,000).
The JD(U)-backed CPI had finished a distant third with near 93,000 votes. Singh had got over 4.29 lakh votes. CPI has fielded Kumar, former JNU students union leader, this time, while BJP has brought in union minister Giriraj Singh, who had won from Nawada last time. However, for most BJP leaders and supporters, Prime Minister Modi is the main draw and even Singh has said that it is Modi himself who is the NDA candidate on all seats in the state and the leaders fighting the elections are only his “symbols”. “Giriraj Singh will win. Our vote is for Modi. He has done a lot.
‘Aur option kya hai Dilli mein’ (What other option we have for the central government),” said Sanjay Kumar, who hails from an extremely backward community. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) is now a BJP ally, boosting the saffron party’s prospects but the 32-year-old former JNU student union president Kumar is threatening the traditional social equations with his high-pitched electioneering. The fact that a number of public figures like actor Prakash Raj and lyricist Javed Akhtar, vocal critics of the Modi government, have come to the town to campaign for him, has strengthened the perception that he poses a better challenge to the BJP than Hasan, a soft-spoken leader who many believe lacks Kumar’s appeal and connect. Villagers in Bachhwara, where Yadavs — the backbone of RJD’s support — hold sway, display open sympathy for Kanhaiya and many say they will vote for him while several others insist that they cannot help but support “our leader Lalu when he needs us the most”.
“Kanhaiya takkad de sakta hai BJP ko (Kanhaiya can challenge the BJP),” Rambadan Rai says. Arvind Kumar, another local, claims the CPI leader is the voice of people and deserves to be in Parliament. Many anti-BJP voters say they will wait till the day of polling to decide whom to back between Kumar and Hasan. Shakeel Ahmed, an RJD worker, says Muslims have sympathy for Kumar because of his strident stand against the BJP and the RSS but the community may end up backing the RJD candidate. “You need anywhere between 4 to 5 lakh votes to win. How can the Left get so many votes just because their candidate is Kanhaiya,” he asks. Kumar’s critics have also cited his alleged links to anti-India protests in the JNU and incidents of his supporters beating up protestors showing him black flags to corner him.
The BJP watchers feel the party’s tactic of making the election a contest about Modi is working, with most of its supporters asserting their vote is for the prime minister and not for the candidate and lauding his government on issues like national security and strong leadership. In Ujiarpur, even some BJP supporters express their anger at Rai, the saffron party’s candidate, for his “dismal presence” in the constituency and due to concerns over poor availability of drinking water. Kushwaha, who was a BJP ally in 2014 but switched over to the opposition camp last year, appears to have succeeded in winning over a big chunk of his community, who are present in large number in the seat. Vinod Chaudhary, a BJP supporter in Dalsingh Sarai, says “a strong Modi wave” is needed for Rai to win from here. Asked if such a wave is there, he says reflectively, “There is a current but who knows how strong it is.”