"Moi Mehboob Alam", spoken in Surjapuri, a dialect with a prominent Bangla twang, is how the CPI (ML) candidate introduces himself to the ones who don’t know him, as he races through the bylanes ahead of the Assembly elections in Balrampur constituency, in Katihar district.
He is the sitting legislator from Balrampur and is one of three CPI (ML) legislators who managed to win in the 2015 election, when the CPI (ML) stood alone in the elections with JD (U)-RJD- Congress alliance on one end and BJP-led NDA alliance on the other.
We are in Abadpur police station area near Barsoi, Balrampur at 11:00 a.m. There are no loudspeakers, no banners and no flags. There are no marigold garlands to mark the candidate out. Only a clutch of young men wearing red gamchas, raising slogans creating the mahaul (atmosphere).
" Aapka button kahan dabega? Teen tara jahan rahega (Which button will you press? The one with three stars), Comrade Mehboob Alam ko laal Salaam, laal Salaam ," the urgency slowly building up. It finally reaches a crescendo with " Dekho, dekho, kaun aayaa? Sher aaya, sher aaya ." RJD's Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former president Rahul Gandhi are also hailed during the sloganeering. But there is no visible presence of RJD or Congress leaders.
Mr Alam, 64, outpaces the others as he stops to shake every hand, even those on motorcycles who have stopped because of the procession get a hearty handshake. Those who know him, are pulled into an embrace. There are others who use the opportunity of pulling him aside by hand to whisper their woes.
CPI (ML) candidate Mehboob Alam hits the campaign trail in Balrampur constituency, Bihar, October 25, 2020 | Photo Credit: Sobhana K. Nair
The distance is covered partly on foot and partly inside his old Bolero with the young men trailing him on motorcycles. Whenever he sees a group of men or women, he would say "tham, tham" and jump out of the car, plunging himself into the crowd. For now there are no speeches. This seat will go to polls on November 7, the last phase, so the final momentum of campaigning is still some time away. So far, it is only door-to-door campaigning, which sometimes, goes on till midnight.
The poll pitch, however, is clear that the "Narendra Modi brand of fascism" has to be destroyed. The narrative includes opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens. "The Modi government brought these to target the Muslims, but this is also hitting hard the Dalits, Adivasis, in fact all marginalised sections of society," he said.
The more pressing problem, however, is severe flooding that has destroyed the paddy crop. "Farmers here tried thrice to plant paddy, but each time the floods destroyed their crop. Every year we face a similar situation, but the government has no permanent solution to offer," Mr Alam said. This door-to-door meeting is an election shistachaar (eitquette), otherwise all year round, I am always around and on the the road."
He is facing his old opponent Barun Jha, who lost out to Mr Alam in the 2015 elections by over 20,000 votes. This time, Mr Alam has the edge once again with Congress and RJD's support. Though the CPI (ML) workers are clear, the usual glitz of Congress or RJD campaign has no space here.
With Balrampur constituency falling in the kitty of the newly inducted NDA ally – Vikassheel Insaan Party, Mr Jha conveniently shifted from "Phool chap" (BJP) to "Naav Chaap" (VIP). But his posters leave no doubt about where his loyalties lie, with only a stamp size picture of VIP founder Mukesh Sahni on the posters. His election office in the area is also adourned with BJP flags.
The unfiltered anger against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, which the voters are vocal about, are also helping Mr Alam's case.
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