On the northern banks of the Ganga, it seems as if Narendra Modi is still campaigning to be the Prime Minister.

In villages and towns across Hajipur, Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi, voters still talk about “giving a chance” to Modi.

Every party has its imprints in this dusty hinterland – Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party in Hajipur, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) that won many battles under the stalwart Thakur leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh in Vaishali and, on a lesser scale, Ramai Ram of the Janata Dal (United) who continued to sway over the Bochahan seat in Muzaffarpur.

But, for the moment, the one man who continues to leave the most indelible mark is Modi.

This is a belt populated by the Mahadalits, Dalits and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s favoured Extreme Backward Classes (EBCs). Paswan, Dom, Chamar, Dhobi and Musahar tolas (habitations) surround the Saini, Kushwaha, Nonia and Yadav bastions dotted by Rajput and, occasionally, Bhumihar houses.

The Nonia and Saini voters, two powerful and effective EBC groups in this region, are enthused by Nitish Kumar’s recent promise to include them among SC/ST category.

Nitish’s hope

The Bihar CM is clearly trying to hang on to the EBC and Mahadalit voters who constitute the backbone of his social support groups.

The last-minute reservation bid too may help him. The Sainis are veering towards the JD (U), even though not all are willing to say it.

“We backed the BJP in the last election. But now Nitish has promised reservation to Sainis,” said Butan Mahto. Despite these desperate attempts, the party and leader who gets unequivocal support in these parts is the BJP and Modi. In village after village, from Dhogbhatha, Githodi, Bhagwanpur/Kiratpur, Rajla, Chandrahati, Baijnathpur, Mirzapur, and Ghadan covering Hajipur, Vaishali, Bochahan, Muzaffarpur, Aurai and Minapur assembly constituencies, it was difficult to find a strong supporter for Nitish Kumar among the Sainis, who have been promised reservation.

It was so even in the case of Muslims, whose support has always been taken for granted. In the same villages, there was visible support for Modi.

In Sipahpur village of Muzaffarpur, voters are upset with MLA Ramai Ram of the JD (U).

According to Shahjahan Khatoon, her vote will go to “whoever delivers development”.

“Ramai Ram has not come here even once after getting elected. These people deserve to be thrown out,” said Khatoon. “You go to meet him (Ramai Ram) and he asks you ‘Why have you come? Am I delivering sweets?’ I am certainly not supporting him,” said Mohammed Noor Alam.

Muslim support

Although Muslims will still shy away from supporting the BJP, they are willing to openly back Ram Vilas Paswan. “We will vote for the LJP. They are with the BJP but it’s not the same thing,” said another inhabitant of the Sipahpur village.

Even if they vote for the JD (U), they will do so under duress. Contrast this with the enthusiasm for the BJP. “I was a strong supporter of the Congress for over 40 years. But Modi has converted me to the BJP,” said Kishori Prasad Singh in Rajla village, Muzaffarpur assembly constituency.

He waves to the crowd of people gathered at the village tea shop, “Tell her who you will support,” he said. Eleven pairs of hands rose up with the cry, “BJP! Modi!”

Advantage BJP?

What is clear is that the BJP is the only party which will get support from every caste group – from the ‘forward’ castes, which form its strongest support base, to the EBCs and Dalits.

The JD(U) is being squeezed even among the EBCs and the Mahadalits, both of whom constituted the bedrock of Kumar’s support base.

At least in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali region in north Bihar, the PM seems to be succeeding in his bid to humiliate Kumar in his own backyard.

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