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Begusarai, the Leningrad of Bihar, where Left is still a force to reckon with

Begusarai, the Leningrad of Bihar, where Left is still a force to reckon with

In and around Begusarai, one can't ignore the presence of small party offices with red flags, devoid of a pool of SUVs and supporters, unlike those of the bigger outfits.

Talk about the ongoing electoral battle in any part of Bihar, and the whole discussion revolves around two political giants – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar – who are the torch bearers of the alliances in fray – National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and JDU-RJD-Congress Mahagathbandhan. But it’s not the same when you are in the Begusarai district of the state.

Amidst the discussion around the promises of Modi, work done by Nitish and the politics of alliance, the red flag makes its presence felt in Begusarai. Not many even in other parts of the state know that Begusarai earned itself the sobriquet 'Leningrad of Bihar' and ‘Little Moscow’ thanks to its long history of struggle between the landless and the landlords. The struggle was organised under the banner of communist parties.

In and around Begusarai, one can’t ignore the presence of small party offices with red flags, devoid of a pool of SUVs and supporters, unlike those of the bigger outfits. However, one conversation with people at these offices make you realise that they still have a relevance in the midst of big promises and caste politics.

[Image: (Left to right) Ram Bhajan Singh, Ravindra Singh, Naval Kishore Singh, members of District election committee, CPM]

“People follow it not just as religion, but much more than that. And this adherence is based on ideology, not money or muscle power,” says Comrade Ram Bhajan Singh, a 70-year-old member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) district election committee, which selects the candidates for both Assembly as well as Lok Sabha elections.

“We still have considerable number of voters in town as well as villages in Begusarai, who feel that the correct choice is voting for ‘hasua’ (popular name for the Left symbol sickle),” he adds.

Responding to a query as to why the communist ideology is so deep rooted in the region, he recalls how a struggle against various landlords, including one Ayodhya Prasad Singh, who was a byword for terror in the region, led to communist ideology striking roots in the district. Left leaders in Begusarai connect it with similar struggles in China and Vietnam.

Initiated by Comrade Sajanand Saraswati in Naokothi near Begusarai, the struggle ensured the rights of the poor people who had no power or land.

Begusarai is a region of Bihar where feudal lords have ruled the roost for ages. The caste in abundance here is Bhumihar, roughly translating to owners of lands or landlords.

“Had there not been the unjust rule of feudal lords in the area, communism would not have developed here. Social injustice prevailed and our fight began against it. We have fought several wars,” said Comrade Ravindra Singh, another member of the CPI-M district polling committee.

“We compelled feudal lords to vacate their homes and flee. Several landlords also got killed, and police stations were attacked. It spread like a wildfire and engulfed the whole of Bihar. Our ideology is not violence but that was the need of the people at that time,” he added.

“Many people are getting killed even now and this is an ongoing struggle. At least 200 of our leaders, including mukhiyas and MLAs have sacrificed their lives. We continue to fight injustice, can’t be stopped,” said Comrade Singh.

Talking about the Assembly elections, the veteran member of the party said, “On one side there are parties that help capitalists and thrive on money-muscle power, while on the other, we are fighting the polls with the help of donations we get from labourers, villagers and party workers,” said Singh.

According to the leaders, they select candidates from among the people. All names are finalised at the district committee level, and the Politburo puts its stamp on them.

The candidates contesting this time are – Rajendra Prasad Singh (CPM) from Begusarai Sadar, Noor Alam (CPI-ML) from Sahebpur Kamal, Awadhesh Kumar Rai (CPI) from Bachhwara, Ramratan Singh (CPI) from Tengra, Suryakant Paswan (CPI) from Bakhri, Mohd Hafiz Khan (CPI) from Cheria Bariarpur and Shobha Paswan (CPM) from Matihani.

Shobha Paswan’s supporters introduce her the wife of a martyr Laxmi Narayan Paswan, who sacrificed his life for the underprivileged.

Left parties won five seats in the Begusarai district win 1995, when it used to be a much bigger force in the region. But in the next elections in 2000, it managed to bag just two seats, retaining the same in 2010 as well. Currently, it is going to the polls with one seat in hand. Awadhesh Kumar Rai is the incumbent MLA from Bachhwara seat.

Going by Left's history in the region, it made gains in areas where it had not been in direct contest with a stronger rival. A tri-angular battle has often helped it gain a considerable number of seats and votes. Once again Bihar is facing one of its toughest battle with two arch rivals in fray.

Though it is tough to state if the Left will capture any seat, but it will undoubtedly mar the prospects of the bigger players.

[Image: Left party office, that too when it has a sitting MLA in the district]