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  India   All India  08 Oct 2018  Bihar parties play caste card ahead of polls

Bihar parties play caste card ahead of polls

THE ASIAN AGE. | NAYEAR AZAD
Published : Oct 8, 2018, 1:44 am IST
Updated : Oct 8, 2018, 1:44 am IST

JD(U) organises dalit event; RJD woos Koeris; Cong picks upper caste president.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is a master in social engineering and used it to perfection in 2005 to end the 15-year Lalu-Rabri rule.
 Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is a master in social engineering and used it to perfection in 2005 to end the 15-year Lalu-Rabri rule.

Patna: With Lok Sabha elections just six months away, political parties in Bihar  have started playing the caste card to boost their voter base.

The JD(U) which has been in power since 2005 and currently enjoys the BJP’s support has now stepped up efforts to mobilise dalits in order to win the 2019 elections.

One such attempt was seen when the JD(U) organised a dalit conference in Patna recently.

However, the Opposition Congress dismissed the event  as “a political stunt” ahead of the 2019 general elections.

At the conference, chief minister Nitish Kumar, whom the JD(U) has been projecting as the NDA’s face in Bihar, was urged his party leaders “to visit dalit localities and create awareness about schemes and initiatives being taken by the state government”.

Talking about reservation, Nitish Kumar said that it was implemented to uplift the marginalised communities. “Nobody can change it. People don’t need to bother about leaders who have been trying to create confusion by giving statements regarding the issue. I firmly believe that change will not come unless marginalised communities are brought into the mainstream,” he said.

Currently, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Ram Vilas Paswan and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi are the two most prominent dalit faces in Bihar. The latter has a major hold over the Mushahar community, a sub-caste among dalits whose members are traditionally rat catchers and have a low literacy rate.

The community has the population of around 40 lakh and was classified among the Mahadalits in 2007 by chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Political analysts say that Nitish Kumar is aware that gaining support of dalits and Mahadalits will change the political arithmetic of the state.

As per an assessment, the dalit-Mahadalit combine makes around 15. 9 per cent of the state’s population which is more in comparison to Yadavs, the core vote bank of the RJD in Bihar.

The RJD is also looking to expand its Muslim-Yadav  votebank. Party leaders say if RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha accepts Tejashwi Yadav’s offer for “an honourable number of seats for 2019 general elections than the strength of Mahagathbandhan will increase”.

The RJD sees the RLSP chief as a powerful Koeri leader, the largest OBC caste group after the Yadavs in Bihar. Koeris form around 10 per cent of voters in the state. With Muslims (15 per cent) and Yadavs (14 per cent) already on its side, the RJD feels that Kushwaha’s entry in Mahagathbandhan may cause a massive dent to JD(U)’s voter base in Bihar.

The RJD claims that Muslim and Yadavs are reportedly upset by Nitish Kumar’s alignment with the BJP. These two sections, by and large, owe allegiance to the RJD as they are traditional vote bank of Lalu Yadav created by him in the early 1990s. Both Yadavs and Muslims form about 30 per cent of the state’s population and consider Lalu Yadav as their messiah.  

Senior RLSP leader Jitendra Nath said, “Ignoring Mr Kushwaha is not easy for political parties in Bihar. But right now we are waiting for the BJP to call our party for discussions. Any speculations regarding RLSP holding talks with Mahagathbandhan leaders are baseless.”

Observers say the Congress is also not far behind in playing the caste card. Last month, the party put up posters in Patna mentioning castes and religion of their leaders.

In the postesr, leaders had their caste and religion highlighted as Brahmin, Rajput, Bhumihar, dalit and Muslim.

The posters were put up a week after AICC restructured its Bihar unit and appointed two upper caste leaders to the top position of the party. MLC Madan Mohan Jha was appointed the state president and Rajya Sabha MP Akhilesh Singh was made the chairman of the campaign committee.

Mr Jha’s appointment surprised many in the Congress party as he was not in the race for the top post. Appointment of two upper-caste veteran leaders to the top post is being seen as Congress party’s move to mobilise upper-caste voter base and upset the caste calculations of NDA in the state.  

Political analysts are of the opinion that the Congress is apparently trying to regain its lost vote bank in Bihar. Brahmins and other upper castes were once traditional voters of the Congress, but in the 1990s they switched over to the BJP in Bihar.

Congress spokesperson Prem Chand Mishra told this newspaper, “Nitish Kumar is aware that people are not happy with the policies of the state government, that is why they are trying to woo voters. The fact is that they have been indulging in divisive politics only to gain in elections. The NDA will not return in 2019 no matter what they do.”

Meanwhile, reacting to the Congress party’s posters, the BJP and JD(U) had slammed the Opposition parties for resorting to divisive politics ahead of 2019 general elections.

“Playing caste card will not help the Opposition parties in Bihar. We are confident that the NDA will win the maximum number of seats in the 2019 general elections,” said BJP leader and Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey.

According to analysts, Nitish Kumar who is often termed the “Chanakya” of politics in Bihar started working on his social engineering strategy before 2005 and managed to gain support from OBCs, Mahadalits and minorities.

In 2005, his social engineering helped him sweep Bihar and uproot the 15 years of Lalu-Rabri regime. He returned to power again in 2010.

Tags: nitish kumar, ram vilas paswan
Location: India, Bihar, Patna