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 land owners who employed poor people from the 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 strong hold 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.