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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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Modi is anti-Dalit, will defeat BJP in 2019: Rahul Gandhi

Gandhi also accused the government of suppressing and intimidating the media

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Rahul Gandhi becomes president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi steps down
Rahul Gandhi steps in as President of Congress, Wikipedia

Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Monday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government of being anti-Dalit and said his party will defeat the BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Gandhi, who led his party’s day-long fast at Rajghat to highlight atrocities against Dalits and other communities, said party workers were protesting against an ideology, a way of thinking.

Rahul Gandhi becomes the president of Congress as mother Sonia Gandhi Steps Down
Rahul Gandhi is against Modi and his rule.

“The atmosphere that has been created in the country, it is due to the ideology of the BJP. BJP’s ideology is to divide the country, crush the Dalits, tribals, minorities. We are against the ideology of the BJP. We are standing against it today, we will stand against it throughout our lives. And we will defeat them in the 2019 elections,” Gandhi told reporters.

Asked about BJP Dalit MPs writing to Modi with their complaints, Gandhi said: “You talk to them in Parliament. They also tell us that Modiji is a casteist person, an anti-Dalit person. He has no place for Dalits in his heart, the whole country knows this. It is not a secret.”

Also Read: A voice of his own: Rahul Gandhi tries to impress Lok Sabha with his speech

Gandhi attacked BJP President Amit Shah for likening the coming together of opposition parties to “snakes, mongoose, dogs and cats” climbing a tree trunk to save themselves from floods. He said every person in the country was against the BJP.

“Some days back a BJP leader said that opposition members were animals. The truth is that today every person in the country is standing against the government. The approach that this government has against Dalits, tribals, minorities and farmers, we are standing against it,” he said. Gandhi said the country will not accept that Modi government “spreads violence, hatred in the country… We are standing here against this ideology.”

Raul Maino
Rahul Gandhi says Modi controls the Media. Twitter

Gandhi also accused the government of suppressing and intimidating the media. “You are standing on the other side but in actuality you are standing on our side as we are protecting you also. You are smiling, I know. We are fighting for you as well.” IANS