Reports

Begusarai: Bhumihar Fortress, Bihar's Leningrad, Giriraj Singh's 'Battle Field'

Abhishek Kumar

May 10, 2024, 08:12 PM | Updated May 11, 2024, 12:56 PM IST


Current BJP MP and candidate from Begusarai, Giriraj Singh.
Current BJP MP and candidate from Begusarai, Giriraj Singh.
  • Even if Giriraj Singh's popularity has taken a hit, the 'Modi factor' is expected to see him through in Begusarai.
  • Big defines Begusarai.

    Starting from the size of a biscuit named lambu (tall) to the flourishing manufacturing and hospitality sector. Even on the political level, Begusarai is known for its huge waves.

    “There was a time when even if a dog would contest wearing a red mark (communist), he would have won from here” said Kamlesh, a resident in Teghra assembly constituency.

    Night View Of Staraya Square of Begusarai
    Night View Of Staraya Square of Begusarai



    For the last decade, the pendulum has swung in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

    In the 2014 general election (GE), amidst the Modi wave, people of Begusarai went with Bhola Singh. The same Modi wave accounted for victory of firebrand Hindutva spokesperson Giriraj Singh in the 2019 GE.

    Singh, who initially did not like the idea of leaving his former constituency, Nawada, to contest from Begusarai, is back in people’s court for 2024 GE.

    But this time around, Begusarai has changed quite a lot from 2019.

    People’s expectations have changed. They demand more from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and their own member of Parliament (MP), considered close to him.

    Industrial area, Communism and Bhumihars

    Like the majority of cities in Bihar, Begusarai also has a healthy and thriving agricultural sector. Fruit farming is also making healthy strides in Begusarai.

    Pond for storing rain water
    Pond for storing rain water
    Planned farmland in Bachhwara
    Planned farmland in Bachhwara

    Begusarai is also known for its thriving bovine milk industry.

    The Bihar State Milk Co-operative Federation, selling milk under the brand name Sudha Dairy, has a training centre and trade union here. “Even today we do not dilute our milk, it is still pure, visible in the thickness of our butter. We sell lassi for Rs 40, for the same thickness and quality, you will have to take out Rs 150 in your Delhi” said a tea seller named Purushottam Singh.

    Purushottam Singh in his tea shop
    Purushottam Singh in his tea shop

    Even though the majority of people find employment in agriculture and milk production, these are not defining features of the Begusarai economy.

    Begusarai is known for having more than the average industrial capacity in Bihar. While other places in Bihar were looking to strengthen their agriculture, people here had embarked on an industrial journey way back in the 1960s. The Barauni Oil Refinery and fertiliser plants were established in that era.

    Barauni Refinery Township
    Barauni Refinery Township

    Barauni Refinery was given an up shot by Shri Krishna Singh, the first chief minister of Bihar. Back in the day, he had envisioned an industrial corridor between Begusarai and Fatuha. His focussed efforts led to the construction of the Rajendra Bridge connecting north and south Bihar, first of its kind, in 1959.

    Under construction flyover near Barauni Township
    Under construction flyover near Barauni Township



    “What Shri Babu did for Bihar, no one could do, not even Nitish. If a visionary like him were there, our youth would not go outside the state to earn” said Indradev Mahto of Pidhauli village.

    Barauni Refinery was the reason why the Soviet Union and Begusarai met, owing to Soviet money being invested in the refinery. The same country would in one way become the reason for stagnancy and later decline in Begusarai's industrial capacity.

    Begusarai, especially its Teghra Assembly constituency, were once termed as “Leningrad of Bihar”. Understanding the core principles of communism and the demographic makeup of Begusarai, it seems contradictory that region was a stronghold of communism for so long.

    Begusarai is predominantly known for the heft of the Bhumihar community. The latest available figures indicate that nearly 5 lakh Bhumihar voters (total population is of course more than that) - are there in Begusarai.

    Bhumihars are traditionally known to be landowners.

    According to the caste census conducted by the Nitish Kumar government, 2.87 per cent of Bhumihars own 39 per cent of land in Bihar. “If you walk 10 kilometres (kms) in Bihar, 4 kms belong to us” said Mukund Kumar, a Bhumihar who had to omit his surname from the certificate due to a casteist call given by Lalu Yadav against Bhumihars in 1990s.

    With so much land, it would be ordinarily be considered foolish to join a movement which calls for snatching large pieces of land from the owners. But Bhumihars did in fact join in Communism and in fact led the movement in the region. Chandrashekhar Singh, a Bhumihar, played a central role in converting Begusarai into 'Leningrad'. His village Bihat started to be known as ‘Mini Moscow’ in Begusarai.

    The paradox of landowners participating in Communism can be explained by two factors.

    Firstly, a lot of the Bhumihar communists sincerely wished to do good for the poor. They empathised with the human sufferings of the locals. Also, many of the communists among the Bhumihars were themselves near the bottom of the list when it came to landholdings. 

    “Those who did not have large lands - 3 bigha, 4 bigha, 5 bigha, they were quick to adapt to communist ideology as they thought that along with feudal subjects, even their pains would also be ameliorated” said Chandrashekhar.

    However, it was not always just the small landowners. With the implementation of land reforms and Communists claiming lands by marking them with red flags, even prominent Bhumihars joined the movement. Their goal was to secure power, which they believed would protect their land from being seized.

    “Uma Babu from Durgapur, Ram Babu from Adharpur, both owned 1200-1300 bighas of land. They still joined Communists and even led the movement” said Chandrashekhar.

    With the backing of the Bhumihars, the Communist movement in Begusarai redirected the youth towards forming unions, staging factory protests, blocking roads, recruiting party members, and more.

    “We communists also fought for the rights of locals. They used to hire outsiders, but not locals, so we protested and became villains. What can we do? It is just the way it is” said Sujeet Shahi who has been canvassing for Left parties since decades.

    Sujeet Shahi (left) during his lunch hours
    Sujeet Shahi (left) during his lunch hours



    The sufferers were average folks of Begusarai. Factories, rice mills, sugarcane mills and even wheat mills were shut down. By 2002, there were talks of shutting down even the Barauni refinery, the very identity of Begusarai at the time. But that scenario was avoided.

    The gate tells whole story
    The gate tells whole story



    Gradually, a sentiment emerged among the populace that the solutions proposed by the communists were exacerbating the issue, leading to a perception that the communists had themselves become the very problem they sought to eliminate. Average incomes declined.

    To add to the miseries were the strict guidelines of the movement. Depending on his income, a member had to donate either one per cent of the income or his/her salary of one day to the party to keep it running.

    Apart from that donations in the form of crops or other perishable items were also demnded from locals.

    CPI Mess in Bachhwara
    CPI Mess in Bachhwara



    In fact, back in the day, the following had almost become a custom: if one was eating at a dhaba and a Communist member was around, the person eating had to offer the comrade something from, or even the whole of, his plate.

    Even today the CPI workers rely on donations and help from locals.

    Additionally whenever members called for it, people had to join them for protests or other activities, leaving their job.

    This is what kept the CPI and other communist parties going in Begusarai. Bakhri and Teghra, two of the seven assembly constituencies in Begusarai are still held by the CPI. Last year, the party witnessed a 20 per cent increase in registered numbers.

    “We are fighting against forces whose money no one can even count. They have thrown in thousands of crores of rupees, while we are only running on people’s support. All we have is people’s support and cadre discipline. People will throw them out.” said S N Azad, head of campaign for CPI candidate Awadhesh Rai and one of the earliest gurus of Kanhaiya Kumar, a former CPI member who turned to Congress.

    S N Azad late in the evening
    S N Azad late in the evening


    When this writer asked whether tough discipline was the reason why Kanhaiya left, Azad said, “It is not like that. People have ambitions, he thought that we can’t fulfil his political ambitions quickly, so be it”.

    For many people in Begusarai, the name Kanhaiya matters more than the party he is associated with. Many who did not vote for him in 2019 said that they would vote for him now.

    When asked what about his anti-national slogans, one of his relatives who opposed him in 2019 said, “Bhumihar ka baccha hai, kabhi deshdrohi nahi ho sakta, neta tha isliye phans gaya. Jaise Bihar mein kuch hoga tah Nitshe par na thikra phutega, waisehi uska naam lagaya sab. (He is a son of Bhumihar, can never be a traitor, he was a leader and that is why arrested. Just as if something happens in Bihar, only Nitish will be blamed, similarly his name was pushed forward).”

    A shopkeeper who runs a sweet shop near the railway line in Bachhwara said that “if it was between Kanhaiya and Giriraj, Kanhaiya would have won this time”.

    For Giriraj Singh, the man who beat Kanhaiya by more than 4.2 lakh votes in 2024, anti-incumbency has emerged as a challenge.

    Singh replaced Bhola Singh in 2019 as BJP candidate. Bhola Singh, locally referred to as Bhola Babu is credited with single handedly reviving the industrial sentiments in Begusarai.

    Under him, once on the verge of closure, the Barauni refinery expanded its capacity. A six lane bridge parallel to the existing Rajendra bridge also saw construction during his tenure. Four lane highway and its modernisation is also credited to him.

    “In 2011, a kattha of land cost Rs 30,000 while today it costs Rs 40 lakhs' ' said Chandrakant Pathak, a part-time property dealer in Vinodpur village, few kms away from Barauni refinery. When asked who he credits for it, the answer was Bhola Babu.

    This land saw 13233 per cent increase in its price within 12 years
    This land saw 13233 per cent increase in its price within 12 years



    The government school near his shop now has modern gym equipment, a rarity in Bihar. For that though, Pathak and his friend Sanjay Kumar unequivocally give credit to Giriraj Singh. “Giriraj Singh did well by building upon the base set up by Bhola Babu, but more could be done. He is a minister and we expect much more from him” said Kumar, who doubles up as a BJP worker during elections.

    Gym equipment is school (name Bindpur is being changed to Vinodpur)
    Gym equipment is school (name Bindpur is being changed to Vinodpur)



    Another reason why Kumar, along with his villagers, support Giriraj Singh is the latter's emphasis on Hindutva. “It is about the country, it is about its security, it is about our culture,” said Amarkant Jha in Manjhaul.

    Dandi March passed through it
    Dandi March passed through it



    A woman selling snacks in the shop Jha and this writer were sitting in, echoed the sentiment. She is especially happy with the way Ram Mandir was constructed. “Ram se mila diye, aur kya chahiye? Modiji kisi ko bhej dein, vote unhi ko denge” she said.

    Mukesh Jha, a CPI worker and Pandit Ji, handling affairs at the nearest temple countered her by asking what did she get from Ram Mandir. The lady was quick to respond that even on that front Modi had not left any stone unturned. “We got electricity, we got houses, we got jobs, now I shut my shop and go back home by nine in the night. Could I do that during your Lalu time? What Modi and Nitish have done for me, no one could” she snapped back.

    The dignified lady beating a miffed political worker in a debate
    The dignified lady beating a miffed political worker in a debate



    Opinion on Giriraj Singh is divided in Begusarai. A possible reason could be that another BJP leader, Professor Rakesh Sinha, had been quite active in this constituency.

    Many people associate Sinha's name with every developmental project of monetary and infrastructural significance. Even in BJP’s internal survey before elections, Sinha reportedly turned out to be more popular than the incumbent Singh.

    “If Rakesh Sinha was there, we would not have to do so much hard work,” said a BJP worker at the election headquarters of Giriraj Singh.

    Election office of NDA
    Election office of NDA
    Every coalition partner's poster is there
    Every coalition partner's poster is there


    Singh seems to be playing on front foot though in what could be his last contest for a Lok Sabha membership.

    He is clear about the demography he wants to target.

    His electoral maths revolves around getting a majority of the 5 lakh votes from the Bhumihar community, 1.5 lakh votes from other 'forward' castes, 2 lakh the Kurmi-Kushwaha community and more than 2 lakh from the Dalit community, owing to support from Jitan Ram Manjhi and Chirag Paswan. The total votes in Begusarai are around 21 lakhs.

    The sentiments of the minority community around Singh are on expected lines. “Even when their vehicles pass from our villages, they do not stop. We are not going to vote for him or Modi” said a daily wage worker in Chak Hamid village. “Whole village is boycotting them and even their workers can’t enter here” he further added.

    While Singh’s electoral roadmap is laid out, his rival Awadhesh Rai is mainly relying on anti-incumbency and galvanising 'Muslim-Yadav' combination in his favour.

    Like Singh, even Rai is also not a particularly popular candidate. He was member of the legislative assembly from Bachhwara between 1985 to 1995 and then from 2010 to 2015. However, he failed to develop a support base for himself in these terms.

    Inside CPI office in Bachhwara
    Inside CPI office in Bachhwara
    Market located 50-70m away from the Communists' headquarters in Patel Chowk
    Market located 50-70m away from the Communists' headquarters in Patel Chowk


    Among the Yadavs, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is canvassing in full swing for Rai.

    Apart from the M-Y factor, CPI is also looking to reignite communist sympathies among Bhumihars. For that, it has fielded veteran Bhumihar workers for canvassing.

    But there is a vacuum in the voters’ minds. Most of them do not like either of the candidates. That vacant space is occupied by PM Modi and his pro-poor schemes. A senior BJP member in party the office said that even 'Giriraj Singh Ji is hedging his bet on PM Modi’s name again'.

    “This time around too we should cruise through his name. Popularity of Sir (Giriraj Singh) has come down, but we will win, though with less margin” he said.

    Business sentiments need uplift

    Whoever gets to represent Begusarai in Lok Sabha is going to face a challenge of toning down the increasing girth of licence raj in Begusarai.

    After BJP took over the charge of Begusarai, industries have revived in the constituency. Apart from the expansion of the Barauni refinery, Barauni Fertilizer unit of Hindustan Fertilizer Corporation Ltd. (HFCL), Barauni Thermal Power Station and PepsiCo plant among others are some of the major industrial units in Begusarai.

    They are giving a boost to connectivity projects, resulting in construction of new and elevated roads like flyovers. The transport industry is also picking momentum.

    But corruption too is seeing a similar uptick.

    One of the businessmen on the condition of anonymity said that nine of his truck drivers left their jobs due to irregular and irrational arrests by police. Owners have to remove their focus from business expansion and shift to sorting out these issues, hindering expansion plans.

    Begusarai has the propensity for both capitalism and communism. It all depends on who drives what from the top.

    This report is part of Swarajya's 50 Ground Stories Project - an attempt to throw light on themes and topics that are often overlooked or looked down. You can support this initiative by sponsoring as little as Rs 2,999/-. Click here for more details.


    Abhishek is Staff Writer at Swarajya.

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