| The central election office of BJP in Bhagalpur. Picture by Nalin Verma |
The BJP is banking on the RSS and numerical strength of its traditional voters — Brahmins and Banias — to retain its bastion of Bhagalpur at a time the Congress-JDU-RJD have fielded a common candidate.
The party has reasons to feel confident about this seat, spread over 51 urban wards. Altamas Bihari (35), a Muslim and 12 year-old RSS volunteer, said: “In no way can we face defeat here. There are 70,000 Brahmins and 60,000 Banias — all committed BJP voters — here. Besides, we have an RSS sakha and 21 sub-sakhas — the highest anywhere in Bihar — in Bhagalpur”.
Altamas Bihari was the lone Muslim RSS volunteer The Telegraph came across at the party’s central election office. On inquiry, it emerged, there were as many Altamases at the lower level as there were in the top rung of the party.
Altamas seems to fill the outfit’s bill to prove it has representation among Muslims too. “The likes of Altamas have a future in a party which had Abbas Ali Beig and Sikandar Bakht in the past and has Shahnawaz Hussain and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi today. The way the RSS-BJP groomed Hussain and Naqvi to replace Beig and Bakht, it is now grooming the likes of Altamas,” said an RSS volunteer.
Altamas had no peers from his community when he joined an RSS sakha in Muslim-dominated Tatarpur 12 years ago and also faced strong disapproval from his community. Not surprisingly, he is counting on the Brahmin-Bania combination than Muslims — 60,000 in number who invariably vote against the BJP — to ensure party candidate Nabhay Kumar Choudhary’s victory over the Congress’s Ajit Sharma.
Asked if Muslims would vote for the BJP, however, Altamas, a Tatarpur resident, said: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done enough to win the hearts of Muslims. At an election meeting in Bhagalpur during Lok Sabha polls, he specifically addressed Muslim youths. You can visit Muslim areas to ask if they will back the BJP. As an RSS-BJP worker, I cannot tell you more”.
The RSS first set feet in Bhagalpur in the 1940s and ’50s, opening the first lot of sakhas and beginning operations at the grassroots level.
Vishnu Sharma (50), an old RSS volunteer, said: “The sakhas’ work is simple. Youths, primarily Hindus, gather at a fixed time, get trained in martial arts, recite the Sangh’s prayer, imbibe dikchha (lessons) from pracharak (unmarried sakha head) and then spread out for personal work and mass contact. Sakha mein Hindu hit ke raksha ka path padhaya jata jai (The sakha imparts lessons on Hindu interests).”
RSS-BJP volunteers also keep a watch on polling stations and voters. “We have committed cadres of four-five people in each and every polling station area,” said a volunteer.
Congress legislature party leader Sadanand Singh — an eight-time MLA from Kahalgaon Assembly segment and as strong in Kahalgaon as the RSS-BJP is in Bhagalpur — admitted: “It is the micro-management of the RSS-BJP that has kept the right wing party strong in Bhagalpur. Narendra Modi factors work only as immediate catalysts. RSS-BJP cadres have been working on the ground for five decades.”
No wonder, the BJP has been winning Bhagalpur since the 1990s. Its old warhorse, Vijay Mitra, wrested Bhagalpur from the Congress in 1990 when the party was riding the RSS-BJP’s shilanyas “wave” and contesting in alliance with V.P. Singh’s Janata Dal. Ashwini Choubey won the seat from 1995 to 2010, fighting in alliance with Nitish’s JDU.
This is the first time the BJP faces a common Congress-JDU-RJD candidate. Sadanand, an old Congress warhorse camping in Bhagalpur, said: “We plan to beat the BJP at its game. The Modi factor has petered out. We have a strong candidate in Ajit Sharma against a rookie like Nabhay Choudhary and we are monitoring our operations in true RSS style.”
BJP candidate Nabhay — an old RSS hand contesting for the first time — is counting on the 60,000 Banias and 70,000 Brahmins. But the Congress’ Sharma, who lost to Choubey by just 10,000 votes in 2010 (there was no alliance with RJD or JDU then), is counting on the 60,000 Muslims and Yadavs, kurmis (Nitish’s and Sadanand’s caste men) and EBCs who add up to almost 60,000 votes. And then there are voters of his caste, the Bhumihars.
The BJP has RSS’s networking, but it has lost the advantage of Nitish’s JDU. The NDA won 31 Lok Sabha seats, but lost in Muslim-dominated ones. So, if Nabhay loses it will, apparently, be the beginning of an adverse trend for it.
Bhagalpur goes to the by-poll on Thursday