Considered the district where the first sparks of the ultra-Left movement began in Bihar — with the likes of Jagdish Master, Rameshwar Yadav, and Comrade Johar leading the struggle between haves and have-nots — the politics in Ara parliamentary constituency has revolved around caste and the age-old fight between rightist and leftist forces.This time the constituency is witnessing an interesting battle between saffron and Left forces, with Bharatiya Janata Party’s sitting MP and Union minister Raj Kumar Singh locked in a straight contest with CPI-ML(Liberation) candidate Raju Yadav. The latter is backed by Rashtriya Janata Dal and other allies of the Grand Alliance to check the division of secular votes.Observers feel that the constituency, where caste clashes and Left extremism have gone hand in hand since the Eighties for minimum wages and the dignity of the underprivileged, is once again witnessing a resurgence of CPI-ML(Liberation), which had become overshadowed by the caste politics pursued vigorously by both RJD and the National Democratic Alliance constituents after the Mandal Vs Kamandal narrative of the Nineties.It was in 1989 that the constituency made history when Rameshwar Prasad of the underground Indian People’s Front — the outfit that later became CPI-ML(Liberation) — got elected from the seat, surprising pollsters.The fight between BJP and CPI-ML(Liberation) in Ara is actually a reflection of the pan-Bihar phenomenon where the saffron-led coalition is facing a tough fight from the opposition. “Ara as emerged as the centre for a decisive fight between rightist and left forces, because of CPI-ML(Liberation)’s relentless struggle against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failure to deliver on [the ruling party’s] promises, be it employment, farm sector, and repatriation of black money,” said DM Diwakar, former director of the AN Sinha Institute of Social Sciences and a social scientist.He observed that RJD, having caste support in the seat, has allotted the ticket to CPI-ML(Liberation) deliberately in order to cash in on both the caste and class equations, hoping that this would be a formidable combination to take on BJP.For BJP, which is banking on the support of upper caste Rajputs, Bhumihars, Brahmins, economically backward classes, and Scheduled Castes, winning the Ara seat is not easy this time, in the absence of a major third party in the race. That means there would only be a minimal split in the anti-BJP vote. The caste factor is likely to be decisive, with the GA hoping to cobble support from the Kushwahas, a sizeable chunk of Scheduled Castes, and Yadavs.In the last election, BJP’s sitting MP Raj Kumar Singh had won the seat with a margin of 1.36 lakh votes over his nearest rival Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha of RJD, who got 2.55 lakh votes. In third place was Janata Dal (United)’s Meena Sinha, with 75,000 votes.Singh is seeking re-election this time by talking about his development work in the past five years, his clean image as a bureaucrat-turned-politician and PM Narendra Modi’s performance as a goal-oriented PM who puts the thrust on development and national security.“The BJP MP’s clean image is his biggest USP. Surely, his development works are quite visible and would get him votes,” said Rajiv Kumar Singh, a resident of Ara. Subhash Singh, a civil court employee, said, “RK Singh has done a lot of development works for the people for Bhojpur, but there are some issues that should also be addressed by him, including the regular traffic jams in the city.” Imtiyaz Ahmad, a bike mechanic and resident of Daulatpur under Ara block, said, “Although RK Singh has done a lot, but the Modi government is a failure on the employment issue. So a chance should be given to a young leader like Raju Yadav.” Ahmad underlined that GA was a “formidable combination”, claiming that the votes of the Kushwahas and Binds, and Mallahs of the Scheduled Caste would be a decisive factor.But, many feel that contradictions within the opposition alliance could play spoilsport — there are reports that GA’s ally Rashtriya Lok Samata Party chief Upendra Kushwaha is not happy with RJD backing the CPI-ML(Liberation) candidate, as the Left party has chosen to field one of its candidates against Kushwaha in Karakat. The RLSP chief has not attended GA’s election meetings to canvass for the CPI-ML(Liberation) candidate so far. RJD’s Barhara MLA Saroj Yadav claimed that GA was “united”, observing that BJP workers were not active for the party’s nominee this time. The charge was refuted by BJP’s senior leader Amarendra Pratap Singh, who said that the opposition was only spreading rumours about resentment against the party candidate. “NDA [unity] is intact and the party would win with a big margin in Ara,” he predicted.With red flags and saffron flags visible all across the constituency this time, Ara is awaiting another round of close contest over two contrasting ideologies in the flaming fields of Bihar.