The Nitish factor in Bihar is akin to ‘jaman’, an important ingredient to turn milk to yoghurt, whose company has ensured victories for the allies. From 2005 to 2013, he ruled Bihar in alliance with BJP, while in the 2015 Assembly polls he revived the electoral fortune of moribund RJD, turning it into the single largest party.
However, he defected to NDA by July 2017 and is contesting on 17 Lok Sabha seats, while other NDA partners, BJP and LJP, are contesting on 17 and 6 seats, respectively.
UPA in Bihar, on the other hand, is headed by Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD, along with Congress (9), RLSP, HAM(S) and newly formed VIP who are contesting on 19, 9, 5 and 3 seats, respectively.
Ticklish caste arithmetic
The NDA focused on the representation of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and Dusadh Dalits, while denying the due share of Muslims and to some extent, Yadavs. BJP and its allies have fielded 14 upper castes (8 Rajput, 3 Bhumihar, 2 Brahmin, and 1 Kayasth), 6 Dalits, 5 Yadavs, 13 non-Yadav OBCs (3 Kushvahas, 2 Kevats and 8 others) and 2 Muslims.
Similarly, UPA has privileged the Muslim-Yadav representation by fielding 10 Yadavs (including Congress’s Ranjita Ranjan), and 7 Muslims, besides, 8 upper castes (4 Rajput, 2 Bhumihar, 1 Brahmin and 1 Kayasth), 6 Dalits, while the representation of non-Yadav OBCs has been diminished to just 9 seats. Thus, the Muslim-Yadav equation in Bihar is at the cost of upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs.
Linked to this caste arithmetic is the attempt by both NDA and UPA to float respective electoral narratives, where Tejashwi tried to convert the electoral ambiance into the ‘1990s Mandal logic’ of creating the political faultline of Backward vs Forward. Guided by Socialist veterans like Shivanand Tiwari, Tejashwi accused BJP of scuttling OBC quota by earmarking 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections, and went to the extent of declaring CPI and its candidate Kanhaiya, who is contesting from Begusarai, as the representative of one caste, i.e, Bhumihars.
However, this attempt to convert the election into a battle between Backward vs Forward castes proved to be a non-starter on account of BJP fetching the alliance with Nitish Kumar, who still has the support of MBCs, and Ramvilas Paswan, who ensured the support of Dusadh Dalits. Besides, like UP, the Modi-factor has a significant traction among the lower OBC, besides upper castes, in Bihar.
Adding to this is the intra-upper caste dynamics having a bearing for both NDA and UPA. While the share of upper castes is thick in NDA and proportionate in UPA, in terms of the caste breakdown, it is Rajputs who have got the lion’s share in NDA and UPA, while the representation of Bhumihars and Brahmins has diminished significantly.
This has caused heartburn among these communities who in select seats are tactically voting for non-NDA candidates.
For instance, at Valmiki Nagar, Brahmins voted for Congress leader Shashwat Kedar, a Brahmin, as BJP denied ticket to sitting MP Satish Dubey by allotting this seat to JD(U), which fielded a Kushvaha candidate. Similarly, at Jehanabad, a section of Bhumihars preferred to vote for independent Bhumihar candidate and sitting MP Arun Kumar on account of JD(U) not fielding a Bhumihar against RJD’s Surendra Yadav.
The justification for disproportionate share given to Rajputs by BJP and NDA stemmed from two factors: one, in the past Rajputs, have been associated with RJD and BJP wanted to foreclose that possibility by giving them a larger share, and two, the Rajput lobby in BJP is strong enough to claim more seats compared to Brahmins and Bhumihars.
Interestingly, the larger representation isn’t enough to guarantee en-masse support of the community as was witnessed in Buxar where BJP fielded sitting Brahmin MP, Ashwani Choubey, while RJD fielded Rajput leader Jagatanad Singh. In the wake of fieldwork by the author, it was found that while a majority of Rajput voters opined a pro-Modi narrative, in terms of their voting preference, Jagatanand came on top.
Tacticality Of Modi Factor
Adding to the complex interplay of caste arithmetic and poll dynamics is the tacticality of the Modi factor in Bihar, where a majority of upper castes is supporting BJP. However, the real bulwark of NDA and BJP are the MBCs who hyphenate the Modi factor with their abhorrence of the return of Yadav Raj. This constituency has three incentives to vote for NDA — Nitish’s patronage to them, Modi hailing from OBC caste and fear of return of Yadav dominance in case UPA surges ahead.
On the other hand, RJD’s attempt to play Mandal card where the party hasn’t fielded a single non-Rajput upper caste gets neutralised to a great extent by Congress which alone has fielded 4 upper castes out of 8 by UPA. At three out of four seats where the party has fielded upper caste candidates — Purnea, Munger and Valmiki Nagar — as per ground reports, Congress is expected to win.
In the final analysis, NDA still is expected to be ahead on account of having a resonance with a diversified social support base by attracting a major section of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and Dusadh Dalits. On the other hand, UPA would improve its tally as it too has the diverse social base of Muslims, Yadavs, a section of Kushvahas and Kevats, besides non-Dusadh Dalits. It would be prudent for RJD to shed its Yadavisation tag at the earliest.