PATNA: Early last week, the RJD created a huge flutter by decidedly opting for a larger co-option of extremely backward castes (EBCs) to counter the Nitish Kumar-led NDA’s sway over 45 per cent OBC-EBC vote base in Bihar. The move was a conscious effort by the RJD to change its image as a Muslim-Yadav combine, which founder Lalu Prasad used as the party bedrock since 1990.
The RJD overhaul of 38 district units saw as many as 14 EBCs taking charge as presidents, with 11 Yadavs, 7 Muslims and Dalits for a new caste Mahagathbandhan. EBCs - an umbrella of some 100 castes and totalling 22 per cent of Bihar voters - have split almost evenly between parties, but to NDA’s advantage lately.
The configuration of 22 per cent EBCs with OBC (23 per cent) formations minus Yadavs (13 per cent) have stood by NDA, though they transferred votes to the Mahagathbandhan in 2015 when Nitish joined RJD-Congress against NDA formation of the BJP, Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP. It proved that appropriate caste combinations could trump religion-based politics.
However, Nitish quitting Mahagathbandhan to re-join the NDA has created a powerful phalanx of upper castes with EBC-OBCs. There is little RJD potential to split Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars and Kayasthas - 80 per cent of whom vote NDA.
Current a rudderless RJD with Lalu in jail, his younger son and political heir Tejashwi Yadav having little acceptance outside, and the party’s first family embroiled in IT, ED and domestic violence cases, the Mahagathbandhan of RJD, HAM, VIP, RLSP and Congress is in no shape to challenge the NDA or split the EBC-OBC vote bank.
The Congress is also likely to contest alone in 2020 and could force a three-way fight, which can only bolster the NDA. The opposition can’t match Nitish's record of piped water and power, prohibition, wiping out organised crime, 50 per cent reservation to women and EBCs in panchayats either, Post Delhi poll drubbing, the BJP has no choice but to accept Nitish as the NDA leader and unanimous CM face.