Opens avenues for Bihar CM Nitish, BJP to woo Yadav votes

On Monday, a big chunk of the Hindi heartland was split wide open by the ruling of a special CBI court in Ranchi, electorally speaking.

The conviction of former Railway Minister and former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad in the 17-year-old fodder scam case has thrown open possibilities for the Opposition BJP and the ruling Janata Dal United (JD-U).

About 19 per cent of votes are up for grabs in Bihar, unless the maverick of Madhepura turns his jail term into an electoral virtue.

Bihar has 40 seats in the Lok Sabha. As 65-year-old Lalu walked into the Birsa Munda jail in Ranchi after being denied bail, his detractors and supporters began an exercise in speculation, carving up his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) legislative party, its vote share, and Lalu’s legacy.

Sure, even in the most difficult of times, the 11 per cent backward-caste Yadav vote block had remained loyal to Lalu. Sympathy for a fallen hero can only strengthen the kinship of caste further. But if the party is split, the organisational machinery is in disarray and Lalu is not around to tour the countryside tugging at heartstrings and goading his people against an “upper caste conspiracy”, the vote bank can dissipate.

Lalu’s attempt to install son Tejaswi as a leader has not worked yet nor has it gone down well with his colleagues. His wife Rabri Devi may not be able to evoke the same sentiment that he does. His party’s known leader for long, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, a Rajput, obviously cannot create a Yadav wave.

This is the political opportunity that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been waiting for. He did not utter a word against Lalu on Monday, mindful of the hurt it can cause Yadav voters. He has also been assiduously wooing a section of the RJD’s 22 MLAs. The 11 seats in his Government vacated by the BJP in the recent past are yet to be filled up.

Nitish, who had already broken Lalu’s Muslim-Yadav combination by taking the more backward Muslims away, can now hope to consolidate Muslim votes in his favour.

“But this could also result in a reverse consolidation of Hindu votes in BJP’s favour. An enemy’s enemy is always a friend. The BJP is JD-U’s electoral opponent now. Those Yadavs unhappy with the JD-U and the Congress can shift to the BJP as well,” explained a Bihar leader.

BJP insiders feel that Nitish’s attempt to forge a post-poll alliance with the Congress could egg some Yadav voters towards the saffron party.

The BJP, with just 13-15 per cent vote share in the State, had always attacked Lalu over charges of corruption, particularly the fodder scam. But a shift of allegiance even by a fraction of the 11 per cent Yadav block of votes can make or mar the party’s fortunes in the State. It is still difficult for political pundits to speculate over Lalu’s flock turning saffron.

But BJP leaders feel that the tokenism of making Nand Kishor Yadav Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly and the leadership of Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (himself from a backward caste), can add Yadav votes to its upper-caste kitty.

(This article was published on September 30, 2013)
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