Battle for Bihar: Development vs caste in electoral calculus

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The northern state of Bihar in India has always been synonymous with caste-based crime. However, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of Janta Dal (U) has managed to change this image and is steadily taking the state towards an inclusive growth.

A resource-rich state with a vote bank of 66.82 million, Kumar has managed to put up an issue based election agenda here. But leaders of rival political parties have managed to pull back the caste politics ahead of the development plank ahead of the crucial assembly elections.

Playing caste card

Development has not lost its sheen yet but whenever a discussion on winning the battle surfaces the caste card is played around. The caste arithmetic on all sides is heavy and has a role in the political spectrum. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is looking to tap the upper caste Brahmin and Bhumihar, Kayastha and lower caste Mahadalit votes while the grand alliance, led by Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, is eyeing the backward castes of Kurmis, Yadavs and Muslims.

Speaking to India Writes Network, Dr PK Basant, a Delhi-based academician and a native of Bihar, said, “I was born and brought up in Bihar. A large part of my formative years were spent there. I know for sure that the caste quotient is high on its thought process. We really need to understand the mathematics here. We are taught from childhood that certain castes are not allowed to sit with upper class people. They are served in separate utensils. The caste divide is also visible in schools. So that cannot be separated with the demand of growth in the state. The electorate wants the growth to be introduced through its caste.”

A lot of efforts are being made to ensure the correct distribution of tickets in the constituencies and field the ‘right caste’ candidates in each of the 243 constituencies to get the desired vote share.

BJP’s strategy

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During the Lok Sabha polls, the Narendra Modi wave with the development issue and promises of better days marched ahead to victory. The BJP also managed to put caste equations behind.

This time, however, the BJP is moving ahead cautiously. The party has not announced its chief ministerial candidate yet to ensure that the caste-based vote share remains intact. The BJP is also trying to reach out to Kushwahas, who have become politically relevant now. But it is surely not easy. The Modi factor may still work but the joint opposition of prominent leaders may force them to rework their caste alignment.

Speaking to India Writes Network, Bhupinder Singh, incharge of the Bihar elections of BJP, said, “Every state works on caste based equations. Why single out Bihar? Discrimination was a thing of the past. Development is the key. BJP will turn around the state in terms of development and the electorate believes that the party can deliver.”

Caste your vote: Which way will it swing?

The NDA’s main allies, Ram Vilas Paswan and Kushwaha, were with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the JD-(U) in the 2010 assembly polls. Their tilt towards the BJP in 2014 created a powerful coalition of castes, thereby strengthening NDA’s hand in the state. The BJP has an edge because the new Dalit icon, Jiten Ram Manjhi, will help pull more Dalit-Other Backward Caste votes into its kitty. The grand alliance is clearly rattled by the extension of the BJP’s support base in Bihar.

Between them, Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad control a big chunk of the lower caste vote in Bihar: Prasad with a bigger Yadav vote share while Nitish Kumar with just three per cent Kurmi votes.

As the slugfest intensifies, the question many are asking is: Will the people cast their vote for development and resurgence of their resource-rich state or vote for their castes?

 

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India Writes Network
India Writes Network
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