To caste or to castaway
The Janata Parivar comprising Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, is bidding for the winner’s hat by pushing the Mandal Raj-2 agenda against the Jungle Raj charge leveled against them by the NDA.
Given the fact that Samajwadi Party and Nationalist Congress Party have opted out of the grand alliance over seat sharing issue, both may play spoilsport for Janata Parivar. While on the other hand deploying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face in Bihar polls may result in counter-polarisation of backward votes in favour of Nitish and Lalu.
Both the fronts have strong faces to woo voters in the name of caste as well as development. The Janata Parivar has leaders like Lalu Prasad, the RJD president and champion of caste-based politics, who ruled the state for 15 years with the support of Muslims and Yadavs (the MY combination), while incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, too is the leader of Backwards and had dethroned Lalu by pushing the development and good governance agenda in 2005 with the support of the BJP, now an arch rival.
The NDA too has a battery of leaders representing almost every section of the community – Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is a Backward class leader followed by Ashwini Choubey, Mangal Pandey (both Brahmin), Giriraj Singh, and C P Thakur (both Bhumihar), Ravi Shankar Prasad (Kayastha), Radha Mohan Singh, Rajiv Pratap Rudy (Rajputs), Nand Kishore Yadav, Ram Kripal Yadav, Bhupendra Yadav (Yadavs), Ramvilas Paswan (Dalit), Upendra Kushwaha (OBC), Jitan Ram Manjhi (Mahadalit) and Shahnawaj Hussain (Muslim).
It is the caste-based voting pattern of Bihar that finally forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to invoke the names of socialist leaders Ram Manohar Lohia, Jay Prakash Narayan, and Karpoori Thakur during his last rally of Parivartan Rally series in Bhagalpur on September 1, just a few days after he had announced a special package to the tune of Rs 1.25 lakh crore to state. Targeting political rivals hoping to make inroads into their vote bank, Modi had said that the triumvirate has been ditched by their disciples, who for political gains have joined hands with the Congress. The <g data-gr-id="360">castes</g> to which Lohia, Jay Prakash Narayan, and Karpoori Thakur belonged are being aggressively wooed by the BJP in the upcoming Assembly polls in the state. The BJP-led NDA is also working overtime to break the Muslim-OBC alliance, christened as Mandal-2, put together by incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his bête noire-turned-alliance-partner, former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad.
“Bihar, which pioneered caste politics, will remain the same in years to come. The state is being used by political leaders and it will be used unless and until there will be no social awakening. The issues of development, law and order, better governance have always taken the backseat during Assembly polls, which is very unfortunate as we are in <g data-gr-id="244">21st</g> century, but the mindset of people has not changed much,” says Shefali Roy, who heads Department of Political Science at the prestigious Patna Women’s College.
Though, Roy believes that Nitish Kumar who ruled the state for almost 10 years had come to power by riding on issues of women’s security, better law and order, may not get the support of women and unprivileged sections of the society in this year’s Assembly polls after joining hands with Lalu Prasad, who is held responsible for putting the state in the dark.
At the same the Political Science scholar pins hope on charismatic personality of Modi and puts NDA alliance in <g data-gr-id="354">better</g> position in comparison to ruling alliance. “The main fight between both the fronts is to get <g data-gr-id="247">maximum</g> slice of Yadav vote. Modi has himself invoked Yaduvanshis several times during his public rallies, but it will be too early to predict the division of Yadav vote. The BJP may get the benefits of charismatic personality of Modi as he is still a phenomenon for the people of the state,” Roy claims.
According to political experts, the battle for Lalu is to pass the baton of his legacy to three of his nine sons and daughters - Misa Bharti, Tej Pratap, and Tejaswi Yadav. While for Nitish Kumar, it’s an opportunity to dismantle the popularity of Modi, the only face of BJP, and be a strong contender for leader of Backwards at national level, if Federal Front or Third Front becomes a reality. The Bihar election is also very significant for NDA as BJP is also testing the political waters with the support of its Lok Sabha partners.
The Janata Parivar has taken a lead by declaring their CM candidate while NDA is again replicating Maharashtra and Jharkhand model by going in the polls in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though, there is resentment in both BJP and its allies over non-declaration of CM face. Prominent OBC leader and frontrunner for CM post, Sushil Kumar Modi and Rashtriya Lok <g data-gr-id="202">Samta</g> Party president Upendra Kushwaha, another OBC leader, had raised their voices for the face of CM, which was outrightly rejected by BJP state in-charge Ananth Kumar. Apart from <g data-gr-id="203">contenderfor</g> CM, the major bone of contention for NDA allies would be seat-sharing, which they are yet to finalise, <g data-gr-id="204">whilegrand</g> alliance is done with it.
On <g data-gr-id="261">chief</g> ministerial issue, political commentator Arvind Mohan said that if BJP had declared Sushil Modi as CM candidate, it could have helped them in winning the poll with <g data-gr-id="262">huge</g> margin. “Sushil Modi is a Backward leader and has no charges against him. Even though, he enjoys the patronage of RSS, Modi was not named as CM candidate just because he has remained a blue eyed boy of LK Advani,” Mohan said.
Adding further, Mohan said, “Among the leaders of <g data-gr-id="234">upper</g> caste, Radha Mohan Singh, the Rajput face, is the frontrunner for the coveted post, if BJP comes to power. The party has relied upon him since the inception of election strategy for the polls and has been entrusted with major responsibilities in devising strategies for electioneering. Other leaders like Giriraj Singh, CP <g data-gr-id="188">Tahkur</g>, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, and Ravi Shankar Prasad are not much significant per se.”
In the view of Vivek Kumar, a Sociology professor at JNU, the election is a contest between deepening democracy versus development. “The deepening of democracy started with <g data-gr-id="198">yadavs</g> (Lalu Prasad), then it went to <g data-gr-id="199">kurmi</g> (Nitish Kumar) and it went further into the hands of most backward <g data-gr-id="200">dalit</g> (Jitan Ram Manjhi). It was passing on the baton of power to <g data-gr-id="201">dalit</g> from <g data-gr-id="256">backward</g> class, which is an evolutionary step,” said JNU professor, who has done several case studies on <g data-gr-id="257">caste</g> system.
Commenting on Yadav vote bank politics, Kumar said, “Power is <g data-gr-id="237">determined</g> factor for deepening democracy, which didn’t happen in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. In case of garnering the support of <g data-gr-id="184">yadavs</g>, it’s very late for BJP to begin with as the party started relying on Yadav vote after long and <g data-gr-id="186">yadav</g> have never been their choice.”
“In UP also they wanted to exploit <g data-gr-id="189">non</g>-<g data-gr-id="190">yadav</g> entities and they succeeded in it. But in Bihar the non-Yadav entity has been taken by Nitish only. Though, Kushawaha is there with NDA, but he is not that much effective to disturb the non-Yadav vote, which BJP comfortably managed to do in UP during Lok Sabha polls,” the JNU scholar said. On the <g data-gr-id="324">issue</g> Arvind Mohan said that the Yadav votes would not get divided and it will remain intact with Lalu.
“The BJP is working extensively on OBC, but it will not have a major impact. Even the <g data-gr-id="187">Papu</g> Yadav factor is not going to help them a lot, rather it will have negative impact,” Mohan said adding that Samajwadi Party, which is not a part of grand alliance, issue will also not have much influence on this consolidated vote bank.
“There has been much hype created about Jitan Ram Manjhi that he will bring the Mahadalit vote into BJP fold, which is turning out to be futile. Manjhi, who was given the CM’s chair by Nitish Kumar, is now struggling to secure 13 seats for its MLAs, the JD-U turncoats,” said Mohan, a noted political analyst, adding that, “Since the upper caste will remain with BJP, there are chances of counter-polarisation of backward votes in favour of Lalu and Nitish”.
He further added that if Mandal Raj 2 and development poll planks of both the fronts come to vanguard, it will change the discourse of electioneering in the state and results may be unprecedented. The BJP should focus on their own pet vote bank, which will help them more.
“The popularity of Modi cannot be exploited at the same level as it was exploited in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The result of Delhi election is an eye-opener for BJP. Also, Modi has challenged Bihari <g data-gr-id="181">asmita</g>, which will go against him,” Kumar said.
On special package to state, Kumar assumed that it will have a differential impact. “The special package will have <g data-gr-id="298">positive</g> impact only on floating mass, which is restricted to Facebook and Twitter. The aggressive voters of the state have decided as to whom they have to select their representatives. The package will only entice chocolate voters despite actual players of democracy,” the JNU professor said.
The observations of Kumar have also been supported by Roy, who dubs the package as a political gimmick.
“It was just a political gimmick, nothing more than that. Instead of initiating steps to boost the economic strata of people by creating employment opportunities in the state, both Modi and Nitish, are slugging it out over package issue. Modi is announcing the package in a dramatic way and Nitish is doing <g data-gr-id="264">post-mortem</g> of the package. <g data-gr-id="197">Ifdevelopment</g> of Bihar is really a concern for Modi, he should have given special status to the state, instead of presenting old wine in new bottle,” Roy said.
However, the decision to “bring” Asaduddin Owaisi into Bihar politics likely to bring some respite for BJP as Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) leader may be able to chip away at the Muslim vote to the detriment of the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance. In that case, the Muslim-Yadav factor, which has been the key to Lalu Prasad’s success, may be strained.