Headwinds for BJP in Heartland

However, even if the opposition fails to forge one national front, regional alliances could eat into BJP numbers in Bihar and UP, which together send 120 MPs to Lok Sabha.

Published: 01st November 2022 07:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st November 2022 07:22 AM   |  A+A-

Lalu prasad yadav and Nitish Kumar.

Lalu prasad yadav and Nitish Kumar. (File Photo | PTI)

After walking out of the NDA, Nitish Kumar has been trying to build a single opposition front for the battle for Delhi in 2024. As of now, the prospects for it do not look very bright. Some parties want the Congress to be excluded. Others would include it but not give it the leadership. That could mean a multiplicity of fronts. And that, Nitish has said, is a sure recipe for opposition defeat.

However, even if the opposition fails to forge one national front, regional alliances could eat into BJP numbers in Bihar and UP, which together send 120 MPs to Lok Sabha—seen from the point of view that the party that wins Bihar and UP gets to rule Delhi, that holds crucial significance. 

With Mahagathbandhan’s resurrection, the BJP is isolated in the caste matrix in Bihar. In the 1990s, they allied with Nitish Kumar and clung to him until forced by circumstances to select Narendra Modi as their prime ministerial candidate; they had to part with him in 2013. When he quit the Mahagathbandhan in 2017, the BJP welcomed him back with tears of joy. 

For 22 years, their alliance milked the caste cow bountifully: The BJP drove upper-caste votes to Nitish, and he swept non-Yadav backward caste votes (Kurmis, Kushwahas, Mallahs and others) to them. The BJP reaped Paswan (the leading Dalit caste) votes with the help of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) for Nitish, and he harvested non-Paswan Dalit (Mahadalit) votes for them.

Today, the BJP does not know how to get on its own the votes Nitish used to pour into its bags. It never cultivated Yadav votes. Lalu’s ‘Yadav raj’ invited wrath and contempt from the upper castes as they saw the Yadavs enjoying the powers they had enjoyed for ages. Unsure of protection from an emaciating Congress, the upper castes shifted their allegiance to the BJP. Voicing their wrath and contempt, the BJP ceaselessly demonised Lalu’s raj as ‘jungle raj’. They ended up making the Yadavs extremely hostile towards them. But they did not care as long as they had Nitish as the magnet to charm the non-Yadav OBCs, EBCs and Mahadalits to keep the ‘Yadav raj’ from returning, as the upper castes wanted.

The BJP’s predicament today is that it has neither the Yadavs nor the non-Yadavs among the OBCs. It does not have the Mahadalits. It is not even sure of the Paswan vote, because the LJP is split, and it has allied with an LJP faction whose ability to attract Paswan votes is doubtful. The BJP is back to square one: it is re-confined mainly to the upper castes and the banias. 

A hundred years ago in the state, the backward castes had risen against the upper castes and formed an organisation called Triveni Sangh to combat their tyranny. The Sangh was able to raise the social consciousness of the backward castes, but it failed to convert it into political consciousness. It could win no seats in the legislature.

The Mahagathbandhan could be seen as a culmination of the backward castes’ 100-year-old war to remove the upper castes from the control room of the state’s political ship. It is the Triveni Sangh in a new avatar, politically robust, unlike the old avatar. 

The BJP is worried because this avatar could wreak havoc on it. In the Bihar Assembly elections of 2015, it captured nearly three-fourths of the seats. In 2014, the combined vote of the Mahagathbandhan parties was much more than the BJP’s in 34 of the 40 constituencies. That was when Modi’s popularity was at its peak. After two terms, he will face some voter fatigue. Therefore, the BJP will have to fight very hard in Bihar to gain even a few seats. 

The party may fare better in UP. With no magnet like Nitish there, it has worked to build a non-Yadav backward caste constituency on its own. It has aggressively sold the Modi image with an OBC tattoo on his forehead. It has allied with small caste-based parties (e.g., Apna Dal-S, Nishad Party). It has been distributing more political offices—in ministries, assemblies, panchayats and the party organisation—among backward castes than other parties. Every backward caste has a hero who, according to their legends, valiantly fought Muslim or British invaders. The BJP has been building their statues and memorials to pander to their collective pride.

Where does the opposition stand against the BJP in UP? Let us look at the JD(U). The party’s expansion efforts in UP have been shy, shallow, shilly-shallying and sterile. Its three candidates in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 and 27 in the Assembly elections in 2022 were pitiable losers. 

However, this can change if there is a replication of the Triveni Sangh with a grand alliance of the Samajwadi Party, the JD(U), the Apna Dal-K and other parties representing backward castes. Notwithstanding its social engineering, the BJP remains predominantly an upper-caste party in UP, as in Bihar. Nitish has already met SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and Apna Dal-K leader Krishna Patel, and both have expressed willingness for an alliance. Akhilesh is eager to get Kurmi votes. They are the second largest OBC caste after the Yadavs and have a significant presence in several constituencies. Today, more Kurmis vote for the BJP than for the SP. Among 41 Kurmi MLAs, 27 are from the BJP and only 13 are from the SP.

Capitalising on the iconic image of Nitish—the tallest Kurmi leader after Sardar Patel—a regional opposition alliance can draw Kurmi votes away from the BJP. Nitish can also bring the votes of Kushwahas and the EBCs with his goodwill for introducing many schemes for their welfare. In wooing the Kushwahas, Upendra Kushwaha, whose caste-based party Rashtriya Lok Samata Party merged with the JD(U), can play Laxman’s role for him. 

Of course, if the opposition unites as a single national front and elects Nitish as its leader, there can be a tempestuous swing in the vote for the front in Bihar as people would see him as an icon of their collective pride. There could also be a surge in support from the backward castes in UP who might see him as “one of our own”. 

Arun Sinha

Senior journalist and author of The Battle for Bihar

(arunsinha3000@gmail.com)



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  • hbalakrishnan

    Wishful thinking at best !!
    2 months ago reply
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