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Ahead of Bihar polls, BJP in caste balancing act

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Patna: Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for an end to caste-based politics, in Bihar a deep-rooted tussle in the BJP between upper caste and other backward caste (OBC) leaders ahead of assembly polls later this year has put the saffron party in a dilemma.modi1

Perhaps realizing the problem, Modi and party president, Amit Shah are taking steps to ensure that none of these leaders are allowed to dominate the public debate till the polls, fearing it may anger either of the groups, causing a loss to party’s social support base.

“The BJP in Bihar is a divided house. To project a leader from either the OBCs or the upper castes as a chief minister candidate would antagonize the other group. BJP is not in a position to project any one person against Nitish Kumar, who was declared chief ministerial candidate by Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and National Congress Party (NCP) alliance,” a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named said.

Another BJP leader told IANS, also on condition of anonymity, that the BJP was sure of its traditional base of upper castes remaining intact in Bihar. Its worry was to consolidate backward castes, in view of RJD chief Lalu Prasad joining hands with chief minister Nitish Kumar.

“If BJP projects a backward caste leader as its face for the polls, it is bound to anger upper caste leaders who have been in the forefront of the party in good and bad days,” he said.

In the caste-ridden politics of the state, there are over half a dozen leaders from the upper castes and the backward castes who have staked their claim for being nominated as the chief ministerial candidate. “All of them are lobbying hard,” the BJP leader said.

BJP’s upper caste leaders like C.P. Thakur, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajeev Pratap Rudy and Radha Mohan Singh are the prominent faces in the race for the top post. Similarly, BJP’s backward caste leaders include Sushil Kumar Modi, Prem Kumar and Nand Kishore Yadav.

Thakur, in his early 80s and a Rajya Sabha member, has repeatedly said in the last one month that he will be happy to be a chief ministerial candidate if the party gives this responsibility to him. Thakur belongs to the powerful landed upper caste Bhumihars, who are said to be overwhelmingly backing BJP in post Mandal politics in the state.

Union IT and Telecom Minister Prasad, who is also BJP’s face on television channels, is known for his communication skills and legal expertise. He belongs to the upper caste Kayasth community. There is a saying in the local Hindi dialect that if the BJP is sure of any one support, apart from traders, it is the Kayasths. Prasad is said to be in the good books of Modi and the Rashtria Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the latter for his family background as his father was one of the founders of Jan Sangh in Bihar.

Though Prasad said that he was not in the race for the chief ministerial post unlike Bollywood-actor-turned politician and BJP MP from Patna Shatrughan Sinha, another Kayasth face, leaders in the party say that Sinha was unhappy for not being taken in as part of Modi’s cabinet, is keen to be the chief minister. They say his denial is not credible.

Rudy and Singh are ‘Babusahebs,’ as their powerful Rajput caste is known here. Both are close to union home minister Rajnath Singh and the RSS. Even the name of another vocal Hinduvta champion known for making controversial statements – Griraj Singh, union minister of state for micro, small, and medium enterprise, is also doing the rounds. Singh is a Bhumihar.

Since last year, a powerful group of upper caste leaders in BJP have been opposing projection of former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi as the chief ministerial candidate.

Modi, who is from a backward caste, is the most influential face and commands respect even among upper castes, say some leaders. But Modi’s disadvantage lies in the fact that two BJP leaders from backward castes are also dead set against him.

Former minister and senior BJP leader Prem Kumar has also staked his claim to the chief ministership. He belongs to an extreme backward caste. “BJP should project a leader from an extremely backward castes like him to take on the new combination of the JD-U, the RJD, the Congress and NCP, which were together eyeing support of the weaker sections and the OBCs,” he said.

Another backward caste leader in the fray is Leader of Opposition Nand Kishore Yadav. “His UPS is that he belongs to the caste of RJD chief Lalu Prasad and BJP have to project a leader to eat into the traditional support base of Lalu,” BJP insiders say. Yadav opposes Sushil Modi’s projection as chief ministerial candidate.

In Bihar, all election arithmetic relies on caste. Most parties also lean on backward castes, Dalits, and Muslims. Even the Congress, till its influence began to wane from 1989, aimed to secure support of such a combination.

“In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP applied the trick of wooing backwards though it got 78 percent upper caste votes. That was much higher than the OBC votes,” says socio-political analyst Soroor Ahmad.

Ahmad said the BJP has been relying heavily on the upper castes and had emerged as the only major party in Bihar that claims to safeguard their interests.

With RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, both from powerful agrarian backward castes – Yadav and Kurmi – the stage is set for a major caste battle in the state, though through the ballot box.

(With inputs from IANS)

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Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Intact

JDU knows that this 15-16% votes is not enough to help the party and for the BJP too, only the 17% votes of upper castes are not sufficient

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Nitish Kumar with Narendra Modi.
Nitish Kumar with Narendra Modi.

By Sagarneel Sinha

There have been lots of discussions among the political circles that JDU led by Bihar Chief
Minister Nitish Kumar is upset with the BJP and trying to send signals to erst allies — RJD and the Congress. This led to speculations that Nitish may once again join the Grand Alliance (GA) leaving the NDA camp. Already, RJD’s new commander Tejasvi Yadav has clearly stated that Nitish led JDU will not be welcomed in the GA. Despite all the odds, if (suppose) GA partners accommodate Nitish, he wouldn’t be the driving force of the alliance as in 2015. Also, Nitish cannot afford to go alone like in 2014 when his party fetched only 2 seats!

Then which is the correct way for JDU? It is to go with the BJP in the upcoming 2019 polls.
JDU’s advantage in this case is the present situation of the BJP. Currently, the saffron party is not in a strong position as the party would be facing anti-incumbency from a strong RJD led alliance in the state. BJP’s traditional voters are the upper castes who account for 17% of the electorate. This votebank is not enough for the party to help to win elections. The main opposition party — RJD still commands over a larger votebank than BJP. RJD is still a dominant force among the Yadavs and the Muslims who account for 31% of the population. It means BJP has to minus the 31% votes and rely on the rest — 69%. Out of these, 16% are the Mahadalits — a large portion of whom generally hail Nitish Kumar as their leader. Also, there are Kurmis, an OBC group consisting of 4% votes — considered as the supporters of JDU. Nitish Kumar himself is also a Kurmi.

Nitish Kumar Invited to Join NDA by Amit Shah After JDU-BJP Tie-up in Bihar
Nitish Kumar Invited to Join NDA by Amit Shah After JDU-BJP Tie-up in Bihar.

JDU knows that this 15-16% votes is not enough to help the party and for the BJP too, only the 17% votes of upper castes are not sufficient. However, if these votebanks are joined together they form around 31-32%. Plus, to gain the extra votes, both the parties have the option to rely on the personal charisma of Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, there is a power tussle between the two allies to get a respectable share of seats.

This power tussle is because of a strong BJP which earlier used to be a junior ally. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections changed the political scenario of the state where BJP emerged as the largest party in terms of vote share and seats. JDU knows the reality of a new emerging BJP, though it is pushing hard to gain a respectable share of seats for the Lok Sabha elections. Instead, Nitish Kumar has another option — giving the bigger chunk to the BJP for the Lok Sabha elections and the latter playing the junior partner for the 2020 assembly elections if held timely. Given the current situation in the country, in a crucial state like Bihar, BJP can hardly reject JDU as the later still commands over 15-16% votes — a very crucial votebank for winning maximum seats in the 2019 polls. Importance of JDU can also be explained by BJP president Amit Shah’s visit to Patna to have breakfast and dinner with Nitish Kumar. Though in politics there are no permanent friends or foes, so any perfect prediction is impossible. But given the current situation, JDU and BJP parting their ways seems unlikely as both the parties are in need of each other as already highlighted by Amit Shah that the two allies would fight the Lok Sabha elections together. Smiling face of Nitish Kumar was also an indication that the meetings with Amit Shah were fine.