Lok Sabha 2024: In Bihar's Siwan, Shahbuddin’s Wife Hena Shahab Emerges As An Unusual Favorite

Contesting independently this time, she has lost three previous elections. But political analysts believe that factors like her disassociation with the RJD and the massive support she is getting from the savarna community are working in her favour.

Hena Shahab files her nomination as an independent candidate for Lok Sabha elections. Photo: PTI

On April 29, the temperature touched 43 degrees Celcius but there was buzz outside the collectorate office in Siwan, Bihar. Supporters wearing saffron and yellow were eagerly waiting for their “madam”, who was set to file her nomination that day. One among them was Vinay Kumar Pandey, who said that these elections will see a major shift in the political history of Siwan and that 80 per cent of Savarnas will cast their vote in favour of their “madam”—Hena Shahab, the wife of former strongman and Member of Parliament Mohammad Shahabuddin, who succumbed to Covid in 2021. 

Contesting for the fourth time, Shahab filed her nomination as an independent candidate. Siwan votes in the sixth phase on May 25. 

Though she lost thrice, Shahab, 53, is hopeful of her victory. Explaining the Savarna equation, Pandey says: “They have never voted for the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Also, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) representative, Vijaylakshmi Devi from the Janata Dal (United), is not a favourite because of her husband Ramesh Kushwaha’s reputation and allegations that he would target the Savarnas when he was with the Left. He later joined the RJD and then the JDU.”

The day the NDA gave her the ticket, 60 per cent of the savarnas decided to back the independent candidate, he says. “After the candidature was announced, we worked hard to elevate Shahab’s stature, and today 80-90 per cent of the savarnas are backing her,” he adds.

Moving Away from the RJD 

Shahab’s decision to move away from the RJD and contest independently seems to be working in her favour. Her decision has ended the political family’s association with the RJD spanning decades. But something else has not gone unnoticed—saffron-clad, tilak sporting supporters standing behind a hijab-wearing Shahab on April 29. 

When asked why she moved away from the RJD, she says the people of Siwan wanted this. Political analysts believe that at a time hijab politics has dominated the political narrative in the country, the way people have come out in support of Shahab is something new for the people of Siwan, who believe she will win.

Siraj, 38, who owns an auto motors shop near the station road, is one among them. When asked to explain why he is so convinced about her victory when “Modi wave” and Ram temple have been dominating headlines, Siraj says: “She also goes to the same temple so she has the support of all the BJP voters. Along with them, the Rajputs, Bhumiyars and Brahmins are all with her.” In fact, on April 29, before she filed her nomination she fed an elephant outside her residence and sought its blessings. 

Ajay Chauhan, 45, who accompanies Shahab in all her election meetings, says: “Madam calls Siwan her family and has the love and support of all the religions, castes and communities. Due to the strength of this support, she is the current favorite.”

The Savarna Equation

Journalist Maqbool Alam says that more or less, until the 2009 elections, Savarnas had supported Shahbuddin. However, with the rise of Modi, things changed. But now, once again they are supporting the family. He, however, says that it’s important to understand the history of this association. 

“Siwan had been the stronghold of the CPI (ML). Till date, there are two legislators of the CPI (ML). In the 1990s, people from the party were often accused of putting red flags on the land of Savarnas and taking their possession. They had coined a slogan: ‘The government land is our land.’ Shahbuddin started fighting for the savarnas and that’s how they started supporting him,” he says.

He adds: “From then onwards, the CPI (ML) and Shahbuddin clashed often, but the Savarnas remained loyal to Shahbuddin and elected him thrice from Siwan. However, after the 2014 Modi wave, their loyalty shifted to the BJP.”

He adds that this time there are two factors because of which the Savarnas are rallying behind Shahab—one is, the nomination of Vijaylaxmi Devi, the wife of the former CPI (ML) leader Ramesh Kushwaha and Shahab contesting as an independent candidate. 

Ramesh Kushwaha has been a CPI (ML) leader for a long time. He had contested elections on a CPI (ML) ticket from Maharajgunj and Siwan. This time around, just before the elections, he joined the JDU. After this, the JDU did not give a ticket to its sitting MP Kavita Singh but made Ramesh Khushwaha’s wife Vijaylaxmi Devi a candidate.

Claims of Other Candidates

Kushwaha claims the BJP and its core vote are with him. “We are getting support from the people. We got nearly 1.5 lakh votes in the last election. This time, my wife is a candidate and she is winning with a huge margin,” he says. When asked to comment on him not getting the traditional BJP votes because of his previous association with the CPI (ML), he says: “The savarnas are with us. Where will they go? To the people having AK-47s, to the terrorists of Siwan (referring to Shahbuddin and his wife)? Why are people talking about the saffron colour? You should ask those who are standing with a green flag (referring to the RJD). Why did they not give tickets to the minorities? Why are they scared?” 


This is the first time that no member of the Shahbuddin family is an RJD candidate. The RJD has made MLA Awadh Bihari Chaudhary its Loksabha candidate from Siwan. Election analysts are of the view that in Siwan there is no fight between the NDA and the INDIA bloc but between an independent candidate and the NDA.

However, Chaudhary believes that there is no fight. “We will come to know on May 25 who has a good hold over Siwan. The victory of the people of Siwan will be the victory of Chaudhary. No one will vote for people who cut the votes of others,” he says. He is of the view that people of all castes and classes are with the INDIA bloc as they want to vote the NDA out.


Siwan and Bahubalis

The country’s first President, Dr Rajendra Prasad, hailed from Siwan. It’s a land of art, craft and culture but all that is not discussed as much as the musclemen of the nineties who dominated the political scenario. Shahbuddin was one of them. During his three-year term as the MP, he was discussed more for his alleged crimes than for his achievements as a political leader.

The present MLA Kavita Singh’s husband Ajay Singh also has many criminal cases against him. Ramesh Kushwaha, the husband of the NDA-backed JDU candidate Vijaylaxmi Devi, is also facing trial in court. 


However, Om Prakash Yadav, the man responsible for putting an end to the winning spree of Shahbuddin, has a very clean image. In 2009, when Shabuddin was in jail, his wife contested her first General Election on an RJD ticket. Yadav, an independent candidate, defeated her. 

After winning the election, he joined the Congress. However, in 2014, he contested the election on a BJP ticket and defeated Shahab again. In 2019, Kavita Singh contested the election from the NDA quota and defeated Shahab. Until then, Shahab had lost three elections as the RJD candidate.

Politically Aware Voters 

Ahead of the May 25 poll date, many people are seen discussing politics in the lanes and by lanes of Bihar. Bhola tea shop next to the Siwan collectorate is one such hub. Ajay Kumar, 50, who was there to have tea, believes the NDA voters are silent voters. “Everybody is talking about 400-paar. In Siwan, people have made up their minds to vote for the NDA. The voters here are not bothered about the party symbol but they are sure that their vote will go to the NDA. Voters will silently cast their vote.” 


However, Bhola, 52, the owner of the tea shop, is of the view that this time, independent candidates are more talked about. There are six assembly constituencies in Siwan Lok Sabha. Savarnas constitute the highest number of voters—4.5 lakh, followed by the Muslims—3.25 lakh. The Yadavs have more than 2.5 lakh voters.

Political analysts are of the view that not only will Shahab get votes from the Savarnas, she will get full support from the Muslims as well. However, Yadavs will vote from people from their community. Chaudhary, the RJD candidate, belongs to the Yadav community. In such a situation, one needs to see as to how many votes he will get from the Yadav community and how many Savarna votes (that are supporting Shahab) get diverted to him.


(Translated by Kaveri Mishra)