Mohammad Tanveer Hasan is not a name likely to ring a bell. Hasan who? That is the likely question. But pop the name Kanhaiya Kumar, and you are likely to hear about the young man from Jawaharlal Nehru University, who, depending on the political persuasion of your interlocutor, is either out to dismember the country or save it. It is also likely that you will recognize Giriraj Singh, a BJP Union Minister who is fighting the elections from Begusarai, and again depending on your persuasion, he is either a saviour or a bigot. It may well be that you believe that in Begusarai it is Mr Kumar (he has chosen to eschew his caste name Singh) out to defeat Mr Singh.
But there is a third man in the fray, and it is worth asking what makes him an inferior candidate than Mr Kumar. Mr Hasan is the candidate of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for the Begusarai seat. He is a candidate of the Mahagathbandhan, which has the tacit support in many seats from the Communist Party of India despite being rebuffed by the alliance when it came to seat sharing. Now he is most things that his contenders are not. He comes across as a polite well-spoken man. His few television interviews do not betray a rabble-rouser or heckler or a person with histrionic abilities. His political credentials are as solid as it comes in these elections. He has been associated with the socialist movement from his youth. He has been elected as a Member of the Legislative Council on more than one occassion. He is academically qualified. He has been associated with educational institutions, and comes across as just the kind of mild-mannered person who would add to the debate in the Lok Sabha. And mark this during the BJP wave of 2014 he polled 369892 – merely 58,335 less than the winner and over 177,250 votes more than the CPI candidate.
Yet Mr Kumar is being hailed as some kind of messiah who has descended on Begusarai. Mr Kumar is a lot like Mr Singh in more ways than just his caste. The importance of his caste cannot be lost on anyone mildly familiar with the Bhumihar-dominated CPI of Bihar, and the fact that Bhumihars are an important caste in this constituency. There is a rebarbative quality to his speech, much like Mr Singh, which works for their base. Other than being the head of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union, there is not much of a political record that he possesses, and as history tells us those who have been elected to that august office are, with some exceptions, more suited to the hairsplitting of internal party politics than the electoral politics of the popular variety. And yet Mr Kumar has received the support of the chattering classes of the Indian left bank. What that has meant for the personality-driven media is an infatuation with Mr Kumar.
Mr Hasan in an interview used a term that has considerable explicatory power. He called his opponents in this election “branded netas.” Mr Kumar is a good exhibit of this type though far from being the exemplar. That laurel rests elsewhere. Except that in his case, the news media have played a key role.
Who the people of Begusarai choose on voting day, we will know later. But to assume that Mr Hasan is not a contender or not worthy of more press or even worse not even worth a vote as suggested by Javed Akhtar who said people should either vote for Mr Kumar or just go with Mr Singh and not waste their vote is something that should make people wonder. If you believe that the BJP government has not performed well, or that they have made Muslims insecure, or that more Muslims should be in the Lok Sabha, how Mr Hasan is a worse candidate than Mr Kumar beggars belief. If anything Mr Hasan seems a more qualified one. Not that it matters, but he has a doctorate.