Caste determines Bihar’s electoral arithmetic

AM Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on March 27, 2014


The State offers a vote bank well demarcated by a large Muslim electorate and dominant Hindu communities

In a State that continues to remain a metaphor for backwardness, development may be the latest slogan. However, caste remains the lowest common denominator for doing electoral arithmetic.

And after the parting of ways between the ruling Janata Dal (United) and its alliance partner for 17 years, the BJP, over Narendra Modi’s projection as Prime Minister, a subliminal communal current runs through the State.

The 20-25 per cent Muslim voters are price catch for the JD(U), especially since it quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) ostensibly because of Modi’s sectarian nature.

Triangular conflict

Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is another contender for the Muslim vote while Ram Vilas Paswan, who recently reversed his position on Modi and embraced the BJP, has just fallen off the list of secular parties. The Congress, in the meantime, is also in the waiting list, hoping for a share of the Muslim vote.

In this triangular conflict, the BJP believes it has a chance to consolidate the Hindu vote. “The BJP has succeeded in communalising the State.

They are also using the caste card to consolidate this communal polarisation in their favour,” said senior JD(U) leader Shivanand Tewari, who is silent in this election following differences with Nitish Kumar.

Along with the upper caste vote, the BJP has attempted to add the Dalits and OBCs to its kitty by stitching up alliances with Paswan and Upender Kushwaha.

The ‘upper caste’ communities — Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Bhoomihars and Kayasthas — make up about 15 per cent of the population. They are also considered the dominant opinion makers in the State.

Nitish Kumar, who was being touted as the messiah of Bihar before he walked out of the NDA, is now being painted as a loser, thanks largely the efforts of the articulate sections among the upper caste communities. The BJP believes it holds complete sway over this 15 per cent vote in Bihar.

The effort is to simultaneously break a sizable chunk from the other backward castes and from Nitish Kumar’s winning combination of extreme backwards communities (EBC) and Maha Dalits.

The addition of Paswan and Kushwaha to the NDA is to facilitate the political affiliation of these disparate caste groups among the Dalits and the Dusadhs with the NDA.

The switching over of JD(U) leaders such as Jai Narain Nishad and Purnamasi Ram is aimed at seizing the EBC and Maha Dalit votes from the JD(U).

Yadavs are the prominent section within the OBCs and they have always supported their ‘king’, Lalu Prasad.

The BJP is making a valiant effort to wean away the Yadavs from the RJD.

The candidature of Lalu’s one-time confidante Ramkripal Yadav from Pataliputra is an example of this move. BJP Bihar chief Nand Kishor Yadav is also ensuring that the party gets a share of Yadav votes.

Modi and Modi

Apart from the “Modi effect”, the BJP is helped a great deal by silent spade work put in by former Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi. Despite being a Narendra Modi critic, Sushil Kumar Modi toed the party line soon after the BJP’s decision to project the Gujarat CM for the top post.

Political observers maintain that if the BJP improves its position in the State, it will not be because of Narendra Modi, but because of the other Modi — Sushil.

The BJP has been successful in its efforts to claim credit for whatever development the State has seen in the past nine years.

Nand Kishor Yadav was the Public Works Department Minister while Sushil Modi handled Finance. Both have been the BJP’s chief campaigners and have managed to create an impression that they were responsible for an improvement in infrastructure after 15 years of “misrule” by Lalu Prasad.

The NDA had won 32 seats in the State in 2009. Four seats went to the RJD while the Congress bagged two. Two seats went to Independents.

Embracing secularism since then is not exactly working in Nitish Kumar’s favour.

In Lalu Prasad, there is a bigger claimant for the secular slot. The BJP has reasons to smile in the Republic of Bihar.

Published on March 27, 2014

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