In 1989, when the Indian People’s Front (IPF), which later became the CPI(ML) Liberation, put up its best electoral performance ever and won two Lok Sabha seats, Bihar’s Arrah was one of them, then won by Rameshwar Prasad.

Cut to 2024. On June 4, the Liberation’s Tarari MLA, Sudama Prasad, 63, sprang a surprise by emerging ahead of two-time BJP sitting MP and former Union home secretary RK Singh from the same Arrah seat.

Meanwhile, in Karakat, low-key Liberation leader Raja Ram Singh Kushwaha defeated yet another NDA stalwart, former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha, in a three-cornered contest, including Bhojpuri singer Pawan Singh and a Rashtriya Lok Morcha (RLM) candidate seen as a favourite.

Thus, 35 years after it had first achieved this feat, the CPI (ML-Liberation) will again have two MPs in Parliament.

Both Sudama Prasad and Raja Ram Singh rose from humble backgrounds. While Sudama Prasad started off by running a sweetmeat shop, and later became a farmer leader, Raja Ram studied engineering before he was drawn to politics.

Festive offer

Sudama Prasad

The new Arrah MP is a resident of Pawna village of Bhojpur. While he helped his father Gangadayal Sah run the family’s small sweetmeat shop in the village, Bhojpur witnessed a clash between farmers and landlords as part of an ongoing farmers’ agitation led by the IPF. It was this that drew Prasad to the group.

In 1982, he dropped out of school after Class 10 and became a full-time worker of the IPF.

The outfit had emerged as a political wing of the CPI (ML), which in 1969 had broken off from the CPI(M) as a radical outfit, foregrounding Mao Zedong over Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin and putting it at a growing distance from the Marxists.

Soon, the Liberation came to enjoy considerable influence in Bihar’s caste- and poverty-ridden rural hinterlands of Shahabad (Arrah, Buxar and Sasaram) and parts of Magadh (Aurangabad and Karakat).

In 1982, after a protracted guerrilla struggle against upper caste landlords, it gradually changed its political stance and launched the IPF. However, this resulted in fragmentation of the CPI(ML), with some groups sticking to the guerrilla path.

In 1985, the IPF contested the Assembly polls in Bihar, followed by the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, when its candidates won two seats. By the time of the 1995 Bihar Assembly polls, the IPF had disbanded its underground activities to emerge as CPI (ML-Liberation), an electoral party.

Prasad, who apart from a Liberation comrade also developed an identity as an OBC leader, contested his first elections in the 1990 Assembly polls from Arrah, but lost. His work on the ground, however, continued and, in 2014, he led a movement in Bhojpur so that farmers could sell paddy at a minimum rate of Rs 1,660 per quintal.

In the Assembly polls that followed a year later, Prasad won from Tarari, and retained it for the Liberation in 2020. As an MLA, he is known to raise issues of farmers. Currently the Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Industry Development, he is seen as having pushed for registration of bataidars (sharecroppers) and issuing them identity cards.

Since it became a part of the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan in Bihar, before the 2020 Assembly polls, the Liberation’s electoral fortunes have been on the upswing. In fact, in 2020, the Liberation won 12 of the 19 seats it contested, including Prasad’s.

In the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, the Mahagathbandhan that segued into the INDIA bloc allotted the Liberation three seats. While it won two, it lost Nalanda, where it had fielded its Paliganj MLA Sandeep Saurav.

What helped Prasad was the anti-incumbency against sitting BJP Arrah MP RK Singh, who was so confident of his developmental works that he did not campaign as rigorously as his rival.

Prasad, who attributed his success to people’s power, told reporters after his victory: “It was primarily a fight to save the Constitution and democracy. I could sense people’s resentment at the grassroots level, something the media could not read. It is because of people’s power that I’ve been elected to represent Arrah in Parliament.” He added that he succeeded in driving his point to the people by campaigning hard, albeit away from the media glare.

Raja Ram

Like Prasad, the Liberation’s former Obra MLA Raja Ram too was largely not talked about much during the campaign in Karakat, touted as a contest between Upendra Kushwaha and Pawan Singh. The latter fought as an Independent after the BJP developed cold feet over his candidature, when the Opposition raised the sexism of some of the Bhojpuri films he had featured in.

Raja Ram, 66, a Kushwaha leader from Ekauni village of Aurangabad, is well-known in the area as a farmer leader and has been an important office-bearer of the farmer outfit Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Mahasabha.

He led a group from Bihar that joined the year-long farmer agitation on Delhi borders against the now-scrapped agricultural laws of the Centre. He has consistently demanded restoration of Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), which were disbanded by the Bihar government in 2006.

In the Lok Sabha polls, Raja Ram is believed to have got support from voters across castes, expanding beyond the RJD’s core vote base of Muslims and Yadavs to the OBC Kushwahas, who traditionally vote for the NDA.

The son of a marginal farmer, Raja Ram graduated with a BTech from the Bihar College of Engineering (now NIT, Patna). He never pursued a career in engineering, however, becoming an important IPF leader in the 1980s.

He contested his first Assembly elections from Obra in 1985, but lost. However, he went on to win consecutive Assembly polls from Obra in 1995 and 2000.

After his victory from Karakat, Raja Ram told reporters: “While Karakat had become a high-profile seat, I kept my focus on campaigning and left the outcome to the people. There were real issues of inflation and unemployment. Besides, the discourse of the BJP subverting the Constitution if it got a brute majority also made the people apprehensive.”