If the BJP is seeing a wave for Narendra Modi, it has to overcome Begusarai.
The constituency, 125km east of Patna, has never elected a Sangh parivar member — either from the Jan Sangh or the BJP — to the Lok Sabha since 1952.
But now Begusarai — legend has it that it was so named because the Begum of Bhagalpur used to come for a dip in the Ganges at a nearby ghat — is preparing for a change.
Barauni, part of the constituency, was once the industrial hub of Bihar — it had a refinery, thermal power plant, fertiliser factory and ancillary industries. The refinery is still there but not much else — the fertiliser factory closed down some years ago.
The factories spawned trade unions leading to communist domination of the area for much of the seventies and eighties, earning the township the tag of Leningrad — the Russian city that was the nerve-centre of the October Revolution of 1917. Starting with Chandrashekhar Singh, the first communist to be elected to the Bihar Assembly in 1962, the Barauni Assembly segment — now called Teghra post delimitation — a CPI member represented the area in an unbroken line until 2010 when the BJP won the seat.
The party now looks to extend that victory to the entire Lok Sabha constituency.
Begusarai comprises seven Assembly segments — Cheria Bariarpur, Bachchwara, Teghra, Matihani, Sahebpur Kamal, Begusarai and Bakhri.
The fight here this time is between the BJP, RJD and the JD(U)-backed CPI.
The BJP’s Bhola Singh, who switched over to Begusarai from Nawada and is a known party-hopper, has pinned his hopes on Narendra Modi’s charisma — in tune with the party line, he describes it as a “wave”. The RJD has fielded Md Tanveer Hasan, a popular person known for his sociable nature and accessibility, who says he is comfortably placed with the Yadavs and Muslims rallying behind him.
The CPI has nominated its state secretary Rajendra Prasad Singh, a four-time MLA from Teghra. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the CPI’s Shatrughan Prasad Singh lost by about 40,000 votes to the JD(U)’s Monazir Hasan. Rajendra Prasad points to this margin and says he is very much in the electoral battle due to the CPI’s cadre votes and the JD(U)’s support.
The people blame the CPI for much of what has gone wrong with Begusarai in general and Barauni in particular. Sameer Prasad, an unemployed graduate, says the factories closed because of the militant trade union activities sponsored by the CPI. Prasad is headed to Delhi in search of a job, much like most of his contemporaries.
The BJP says the mood of the voters has changed. What it does not say, but what is palpable on the ground, is the fact that like much of Bihar, Begusarai is polarised on religious lines.
Ranjan Bhagat, who runs a mobile communication shop at Balia town and has been hitherto voting for the RJD, says he has a changed opinion now because of Narendra Modi.
Every party, he says — be it the RJD, Congress or the JD(U) — metes out special treatment to the minorities while ignoring the Hindus.
But, Bhagat says, Modi will change all that. “Modi dil ko bhaa gaye hain. Aur wo kisi ka tushtikaran nahi karenge sabke sath nyay karenge aur ek sakht Prime Minister sabit honge jo atankwad aur simapar garbariyon ko sakhti se nibtenge (Modi has touched my heart. I believe, he will follow the theory of appeasement to none and justice for all and will prove to be a stronger Prime Minister who will handle terrorism and cross-border activities with an iron hand).”
Pradeep Malakar, who runs a transport agency in Begusarai town, also had a similar explanation for why he will vote for Modi. “Our family used to vote for the Congress. We will vote for a change and for a Modi-led BJP government at the Centre which can teach a lesson to Pakistan when our soldiers’ are beheaded. Pakistan Modi ke naam pe thar thar kanpta hai, Pakistan shivers if Modi’s name is uttered.”
But the votaries for Modi say the BJP’s marquee leader should campaign at least once in Begusarai to make sure Bhola Singh’s victory.
The BJP’s well-oiled machinery realises it has a fight on its hands from the RJD’s Tanveer Hasan, a four-time MLA and once MLC.
A drive through the rugged constituency shows why Yadavs and Muslims are rallying behind Hasan.
Yadavs have consolidated solidly behind Lalu Prasad as they are fighting the elections for their political survival and to remain significant in the state’s politics. The Muslims have deserted Nitish Kumar, ironical since the chief minister parted ways with the BJP over Modi.
Mohammad Zamiruddin, a farmer in Balia, says Nitish’s rule has been characterised by malignant corruption and opening of liquor shops across the state. “You will find a liquor shop on every street. One has to pay bribe for availing caste and residential certificates,” he said.
“My conscience does not allow me to vote for the Nitish government. The state government has ruined the entire education system,” said Shahabuddin, also of Balia.
Begusarai votes on April 30