With just two days remaining for voting in the first phase of the Assembly polls, the contest is panning out between the backward and forward castes in Bihar for the opposition Mahagathbandhan and the ruling NDA respectively.
Such a vote polarisation, deliberately effected through statements of the leaders of the two groupings, seems to be turning into an advantageous situation for the Mahagathbandhan.
During a rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Sasaram on October 23, he said that 10 per cent reservation will be given to the upper castes belonging to the economically weaker section.
Tejashwi Yadav, the CM face of the Mahagathbandhan, during a rally in Sasaram district on Monday, said that poor people fearlessly walked in front of Babu Sahab (Rajput) and other upper caste people of Bihar when his father Lalu Prasad Yadav was the Chief Minister.
Such statements are important in the context of the caste equations in Bihar. There are four castes — Brahmin, Rajput, Bhumihar and Kayastha — that are considered as upper castes in Bihar.
As per the Election Commission of India (ECI), Bihar had a total of 7,21,40945 voters till January 2020 including 3,80,88338 males, 3,42,50262 females and 2339 transgenders.
Among them, only 19 per cent voters are from the upper castes, while 16 per cent are Dalits, 17 per cent are Muslims, 16 per cent Yadav and the remaining 38 per cent belonging to OBCs.
In Bihar, traditionally the upper castes were landowners who employed poor people from the Dalit and OBC communities before 1990. The situation changed to a large extent after Lalu Prasad came to power in 1990. He belongs to the OBC segment and advocated social equality and justice for Dalits and OBCs.
The think tank of the RJD knew that if Tejashwi Yadav used his father’s image in the 2020 Bihar assembly election to polarise voters between lower and upper castes, it will be a gain for the Mahagathbandhan.
The Mahagathbandhan, say, analysts, already seems to find favour with Muslims and Yadavs (the MY factor). If the Dalits go with the Mahagathbandhan, it is an added advantage. Besides, it also has some votes from the other OBC castes.
The alliance partners of the Mahagathbandhan by and large represent the OBCs and Dalits in Bihar. The OBCs and Muslims are known for being traditional voters of the Congress. The Left parties have also always been vocal for Dalits and the labourer community in Bihar.
Besides, Tejashwi Yadav’s populist promise to provide 10 lakh government jobs is also turning out to be handy in enticing poor people largely from the Dalit, Muslim, and OBC communities.
On the other hand, the BJP is seen as a party favoured by upper caste voters.
The BJP is also known for polarising voters between Hindus and Muslims over the years. However, it does not seem to be working in the Assembly election despite its leaders like Giriraj Singh bringing Jinnah into this election and Minister Of State for Home Nityanand Rai saying that Kashmiri militants would take shelter in Bihar if the Mahagathbandhan came to power.
The Nitish Kumar led ruling JD-U is also seen to have failed to convince the state’s Dalits and Muslims. Kumar has a stronghold in the Koiri and Kurmi communities which are around 24 per cent but that may not be good enough to get an edge in the elections.
Saroj Yadav, a political analyst based in Patna said: “The situation is extremely tough for the JD-U and the BJP as they are not making any effort to attract Dalits and Muslims. The crowds in the rallies of Tejashwi Yadav are much bigger than the rallies of NDA leaders and it gives a clear message to political parties about what the voters are thinking this time.”
“The separation of Chirag Paswan from the NDA is also going against it. Late Ram Vilas Paswan was a well-known leader of Dalits in Bihar. His party LJP works on the same lines and the voters of the party (mainly Dalits) may go away from the NDA,” he said.
The entry of Lok Janshakti Party as an independent contestant in the Bihar Assembly elections may spoil the party for the ruling Janata Dal-United, an ally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
The JD-U, which was the ‘big brother’ for the NDA in the past, is now faced with the embarrassing situation wherein its leader and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s pictures are not even there on BJP advertisements in newspapers ahead of elections, giving rise to a lot of speculations.
Even surveys done by various agencies in Bihar have allegedly revealed that Nitish’s popularity among the voters has gone down.
However, BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal maintains that the BJP-led NDA is fighting the elections under the leadership of Nitish Kumar only, who is the chief ministerial candidate of the alliance.
On the other hand, JD-U leader Ajay Alok maintains that many ‘yuvraj’ or political heirs were in the fray to save their political careers and the situation will be clear on November 10 when the results are declared.
Irrespective of what NDA allies may say, the situation for the JD-U began to worsen after LJP leader Chirag Paswan moved away from the NDA in Bihar to show his independence by voicing a difference of opinions on the implementation of various schemes in Bihar or the working of the state bureaucracy.
The LJP’s independent stance was showcased in the very beginning when the JD-U wrote to the Election Commission of India to hold the Bihar Assembly elections as scheduled while the LJP wanted the same to be postponed in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
The LJP fielded candidates in 136 of the 243 constituencies, though the nominations of its nominees in Makhdoompur and Phulwari were rejected. Most of these 134 nominees are now pitted against the JD-U even as others are facing BJP rivals in Gobindganj, Lalganj, Bhagalpur, Raghopur, Rosara, and Narkatiyaganj.
LJP spokesperson Ashraf Ansari said that while Gobindganj and Lalganj have sitting MLAs from his party, there is a ‘friendly match’ with the BJP in other seats. He claimed that the LJP will form the next government in Bihar along with the BJP.
Chirag Paswan too has been appealing to the voters to vote for the BJP in Assembly segments in which his party is not in the fray.
It is being said that the LJP wishes to bag at least 10-15 seats by taking advantage of the Narendra Modi factor in the Assembly elections and will play an important role in the formation of any future government if the JD-U and BJP failed to bag a simple majority of 122 seats on their own.
In the NDA, the JD-U is fighting 115 seats, BJP 110 seats, Vikassheel Insaan Party 11 and Hindustani Awam Morcha seven seats.
The elections for 243 Assembly seats will be held in three phases – for 71 seats on October 28, for 94 seats on November 3, and remaining 78 on November 7. The results will be announced on November 10. (IANS)