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Shadow of a violent past looms over Arrah

CPI(M-L) leader Raju Yadav takes on Union Minister R.K. Singh.

Arrah in western Bihar, a constituency weighed down by a past mired in caste oppression and bloodshed, is witnessing a straight contest between the BJP and the grand alliance.

Union Minister R.K. Singh, sitting MP, is pitted against Communist Party of Indian (Marxist-Leninist), or CPI(M-L), candidate Raju Yadav.

Arrah is the district headquarters of Bhojpur, which in the early 1990s saw conflicts between the ultra-Left CPI-ML (Liberation) and the upper caste Bhumihar militia, the Ranvir Sena.

The Sena became infamous for several massacres of Dalit and lower caste communities. With hundreds of people losing their lives in the armed clashes, Bhojpur came to be labelled the “killing field of Bihar”.

In 1989, Rameshwar Prasad, representing the Indian People’s Front, the electoral front of the then underground CPI-ML (Liberation), was elected to the seat. Though caste violence has eased in Bhojpur, caste-based political parties continue to hold sway.

In the 2014 election, Mr. Raju Yadav, 36, got nearly 1 lakh votes. Mr. Singh, 66, won the seat by 1.36 lakh votes, defeating his nearest RJD rival, Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha. Mr. Kushwaha later joined the Janata Dal(U).

This time, the RJD gave up the seat for the CPI(M-L) from its quota of 20 seats in exchange of withdrawal of the latter’s candidate from Patliputra seat, where Misa Bharti, daughter of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, is contesting against Ram Kripal Yadav of the BJP.

Mr. Singh is seeking re-election on his image, upper caste support, “muscular nationalism” and development work. The CPI(ML) nominee is relying on backward and lower caste vote support, galvanisation of secular votes and a committed cadre.

The constituency has 20% Yadav, 15% Dalit, 25% upper caste and about 7% Muslim votes. Of the seven Assembly constituencies, five — Ara, Barhara, Jagdishpur, Shahpur and Sandesh — are held by the RJD. Tarari is with the CPI(ML). Agiaon is with the JD(U).

Jatiwad, na Naxalwad…sabse upar Rashtrawad (neither casteism, nor naxalism…above all nationalism); Phir ek baar, Modi sarkar (once again Modi govt.)”, proclaim BJP posters with pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP national president Amit Shah and other alliance leaders.

The CPI(ML) posters say: “Bole Ara, teen tara! Aa raha hai teen tara, behtar hoga apna Ara (Ara speaks, three stars; three stars are coming, better will be our Ara). Three stars on a red flag is the election symbol of the CPI(ML).

“The sitting BJP MP has done some development works in the constituency like installing solar lights, better roads, sprucing up the railway station and some new trains running through the district, and he also has an edge in PM Modi’s buzz, especially among the upper caste youths…so he is in advantageous position this time too,” says Anugrah Narain Singh, a sexagenarian farmer of Jagdishpur.

However, Jitendra Yadav of the Sandesh area counters, saying, “R.K. Singh may have his upright image but he is a right man in the wrong party…this time we’ve decided to vote for Raju Yadav and he is the united face of all opposition parties in this election”.

Outside Shahpur bazaar on Ranisagar road, CPI(ML) candidate Raju Yadav is heading to join RJD leader and star campaigner of the mahagathbandhan Tejashwi Yadav at a public meeting at Khawaspur in Barahara block.

Followed by young cadres with “Bole Arrah, Teen tara” embossed on their white T-shirts, Raju Yadav appeared confident. “I’m getting support of all opposition parties and unlike previous election, it’s a direct fight between secular and communal forces,” he told The Hindu.

Refusing to be drawn into a comparison with the other young Left candidate, Kanhaiya Kumar, who is contesting in Begusarai on a CPI ticket, Mr. Yadav merely says, “But, why there has been no hype of eminent people coming for his campaign like they did in another Left party (CPI) candidate from Begusarai, Kanhaiya Kumar? “I do not know…there should not be any comparison between me and Kanhaiya”, he quipped. You also could not generate as much money as Kanhaiya did through crowd funding on social media (Kanhaiya Kumar had generated ₹70 lakh in just three days while, Raju Yadav could manage only ₹3 lakh)?. “May be I’m not so popular on social media like Kanhaiya…” as he heads for the election rally. what more can I say?”, he said while, throwing a puckish smile on his tired face and requesting to let him go for the scheduled public meeting.

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