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Caste dominates in Bihar’s third round polling

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Patna: Caste, caste, caste… As Bihar readies for the third phase of assembly elections on Wednesday, caste seems to have taken the centre stage yet again.

Although rival claimants for power are talking about issues related to economic development, political activists and voters think it is caste which will finally determine who votes for who.

That has made the Bihar battle all the more tough for everyone.

A total of 50 of the 243 constituencies, nearly a dozen of them urban centric and in the fertile belt in Bihar’s six districts, go to the polls on Wednesday. The five-phase elections end on November 5.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, this region, like most of Bihar, voted overwhelmingly for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP-led four-party alliance wants to repeat the show now.

So the third phase will be a litmus test for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s claims of having provided development and good governance.

Nitish Kumar’s home turf Nalanda, known as ‘Kurmistan’ due to the dominance of his Kurmi caste, is likely to back the Grand Alliance of his JD-U, RJD and Congress.

Lalu Prasad’s prestige is at stake as his sons — Tej Pratap Yadav and Tejaswi Yadav — are in the fray.

They are contesting from Mahua and Raghopur seats respectively in Vaishali district. Lalu Prasad has vigorously campaigned for them. His wife and former chief minister Rabri Devi has confined herself to the two constituencies.

In both seats, Lalu Prasad’s community may decide the fate of his sons.

The BJP and its allies’ campaign managers know the voting may not follow the Lok Sabha pattern when a Modi wave bulldozed everyone else.

Comments against job reservation made by the RSS chief — later disowned by BJP leaders — has been a major campaign issue.

To counter it, the BJP has claimed that the Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress are trying to ensure job quotas for Muslims.

Modi has presented himself as a “son of poor EBC” (extreme backward caste) tea seller.

Nitish Kumar has taken on Modi over his caste comment.

“From a development driver, he first became an OBC and now he is calling himself an EBC. Don’t be surprised if he becomes a Dalit also in course of time,” the JD-U leader quipped.

The BJP is banking heavily on the EBCs and Dalits and other backward castes, including Yadav voters, to get the winning votes.

It appears confident of the overwhelming support of upper castes along with some OBCs and EBCs as well as Dalits, mainly because of its alliance with former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan.

But in election rallies, both Modi and his foes talk about how to develop Bihar.

About 14.5 million voters are eligible to decide the fate of 808 candidates on Wednesday. Most of the 14,170 polling booths are in rural areas. The six districts where polling will be held are Patna, Saran, Vaishali, Nalanda, Bhojpur and Buxar.

The first phase of voting on October 12 saw polling in 49 assembly seats, followed by 32 constituencies on October 16.

According to the Association for Democratic Reforms and the National Election Watch, 215 candidates in the third round face serious criminal charges including those of murder.

(Imran Khan, 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.