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Kul or Phool? Dilemma Facing Bhumihar Voters in East Champaran, Mahatma Gandhi’s Karmabhoomi

Kul or Phool? Dilemma Facing Bhumihar Voters in East Champaran, Mahatma Gandhi’s Karmabhoomi

RLSP candidate Akash Kumar Singh and union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh are vying for the votes of the dominant Bhumihar community in East Champaran constituency in Bihar.

Motihari (Bihar):Kul par ya phool par’ (caste or lotus) is an issue of intense debate among the numerically powerful Bhumihar community in East Champaran parliamentary constituency which goes to polls in the sixth phase on May 12.

The debate indicates the dilemma of the Bhumihar community on whether to vote for the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) candidate belonging to their caste or support the BJP again. Bhumihars are dominant in this constituency and their votes hold the key to victory.

“Bhumihars have traditionally been voting for the BJP. But this time, the poll debate veers around kul or phool (caste or lotus). If the Bhumihar community prefers to vote for kul (caste), it will benefit RLSP nominee Akash Kumar Singh, a Bhumihar by caste. And, if they throw their weight behind their most-preferred party, the BJP, sitting MP Radha Mohan Singh, a Rajput by caste, will have the advantage once again,” said Sagar Suraj, an advocate in Motihari.

Five-time MP and union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh had to face a similar situation in 2014 when Bhumihar votes were split as rebel BJP leader Awaneesh Kumar Singh of the same caste contested against him as Janata Dal (United) candidate. But the BJP nominee won with a comfortable margin as he polled 4 lakh-odd votes against 2 lakh votes polled by the RJD nominee and 1.28 lakh votes garnered by the JD(U) candidate.

BJP leaders dismiss speculation that the Bhumihar votes will be divided due to the RLSP candidate. “Last time, the BJP candidate had polled more votes than the combined votes of RJD and JD(U) nominees. Since the JD(U) is with the NDA this time, the margin will be much bigger. Moreover, the BJP has an edge because people stand united on the issue of nationalism, especially after the Balakot surgical strike,” claimed Pramod Kumar, BJP MLA from Motihari assembly segment and Bihar tourism minister.

The Bhumihar voters may be in quandary and their votes may split eventually between the two candidates, but the contest is likely to be keen in East Champaran as efforts are on to counter BJP’s nationalism narrative with Mandal plank by the Mahagathbandhan.

Challenging the BJP veteran is Akash Kumar Singh, a greenhorn in politics and an alumnus of St Paul’s School at Darjeeling and Brunel University in London. But it is his father and Bihar Congress campaign committee chairman Akhilesh Prasad Singh who is actually fighting the electoral battle on his son’s behalf. Akash’s selection as the RLSP candidate was preceded by an unseemly controversy over denial of tickets to two other party contenders.

Akhilesh Singh has contested from this constituency, earlier known as Motihari constituency before delimitation in 2008, twice as RJD nominee against Radha Mohan Singh. He won in 2004 by a margin of 97,000-odd votes and lost in 2009 by a margin of nearly 80,000 votes.

“In fact, his father Akhilesh Singh is a dummy candidate through his son. Akhilesh has fought and lost against me in the past. Had RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha been wise, he would have given the ticket to a party member who has worked in Motihari. The local RLSP members are alleging foul play in ticket distribution. They are bound to lose as a strong Narendra Modi wave is surging across Champaran,” claimed Radha Mohan Singh, who is credited with spending near-total MPLAD fund in his constituency.

But the RLSP nominee denies any ‘unfair practice’ in his selection as the party candidate from East Champaran. “I have keen interest in politics as I was born into a political family. I had been in touch with my leader Upendra Kushwaha for a long time. Since my father had won from Motihari, I was offered this seat. I accepted the offer and decided to enter the poll fray,” Akash had said soon after joining the RLSP.

Akash has a family legacy as his father started his political career in the late 80s in the then Janata Dal and remained close to senior party leaders. His mother Veena Singh had unsuccessfully contested the state assembly elections from Arwal in 2005. Like a veteran, he talks about his plans for development of East Champaran and ameliorating the condition of the farmers, if elected.

The Mahagathbandhan leaders also berate the sitting MP for neglecting the farmers’ interest despite heading the union agriculture ministry for five years. “As union agriculture minister, Radha Mohan Singh has done nothing substantial for the area. Sugarcane growers are suffering because there is no revival plan for the closed sugar mills,” said Rajesh Kumar, RJD MLA from Kesariya assembly segment.

Known as the karmabhoomi of Mahatma Gandhi, who launched his first civil disobedience movement against the European indigo planters here, the East Champaran constituency bordering Nepal has agriculture-based economy and sugarcane farmers suffer because of closure of many sugar factories in this region. Sugarcane growers from this region and neighbouring Nepal are solely dependent on the few running sugar mills for livelihood.

While the main contenders are trying hard to outwit each other, the entry of an NRI, Rajeev Ranjan Srivastava, into the fray as Janata Dal Rashtravadi candidate has made the contest interesting. Srivastava quit his IT job in Singapore to contest elections so that he could “serve the masses”.

It would also be significant to watch if a veteran Radha Mohan Singh, who grew in politics from the RSS and Jana Sangh background, emerges victor once again in the land of Gandhi or his electoral journey is stopped by a raw politician.

(Author is a senior journalist)