The contest in Bihar’s Begusarai between Communist Party of India’s Kanhaiya Kumar, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Giriraj Singh and the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tanvir Hassan has drawn enormous attention.
Kanhaiya Kumar, who shot into national prominence as a student leader at Jawaharlal Nehru University, is a prominent face of dissent against the Narendra Modi government. Sixty-six-year-old Giriraj Singh, a minister in the Modi government, is the face of hardline Hindutva in Bihar. As a consequence, the Begusarai election is a contest of competing visions for India.
The triangular contest is the result of talks between the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Communist Party of India falling through. The Communist Party of India is reported to have wanted to field Kanhaiya Kumar as their joint candidate, but the Rashtriya Janata Dal refused to back off, arguing it had finished second in the 2014 election with double the left party’s voteshare.
Kanhaiya Kumar – who hails from Begusarai – gained prominence in February 2016 when, as president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, he was arrested and charged with sedition. A video purportedly showing the student leader shouting slogans demanding “azadi” turned out to be doctored.
Almost three years later, a chargesheet was finally filed against him in January, but there were holes in the police account of events.
He describes himself as an accidental politician whose form of “alternative politics is not just a fight against oppression, but a fight for freedom and equality”. Writing for Scroll.in, Kumar had said that his fight was not only against the BJP or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s “Hindutva chauvinism” but also for BR Ambedkar’s social inclusiveness.
Giriraj Singh’s vitriolic statements
In 2014, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 31 of 40 seats in Bihar. The BJP won 22 of these, including Begusarai. For this election, it has formed an alliance with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.
BJP candidate Giriraj Singh has gained noterity over the years for his vitriolic statements about Muslims. Singh, who is currently an MP from the Nawada parliamentary constituency, was initially unhappy that the BJP had allotted him Begusarai.
During the campaign, he was repeatedly censured by the Election Commission.
On April 25, the Begusarai district administration in Bihar booked Singh for violating the Model Code of Conduct with a comment abut Muslims. “Those who cannot say Vande Mataram or cannot respect the motherland, the nation will never forgive them,” Singh said. “My ancestors died at the Simaria ghat and no grave was built for them but you [Muslims] need three hand spans of space.”
Singh’s comments were an apparent jibe at the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s candidate from Darbhanga, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who told a television channel that singing the song “Vande Mataram was against his religious beliefs. Some Muslims contend that the song implies worship of the motherland, which contravenes their belief that Allah is the only god.
Giriraj Singh ran into grouble again at the end of April, when he demanded that the Election Commission ban the colour green in political party flags: he claimed that they resembled Pakistan’s flag.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal, meanwhile, fielded 62-year-old Tanvir Hassan as its candidate after talks with the Communist Party of India failed. Hassan is a member of the Bihar legislative council. The RJD has tied up with the Congress, the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha Secular and Vikassheel Insaan Party in a “grand alliance” in Bihar.
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