PATNA: The BJP, considered a Brahmin-Bania party and one dominated by upper caste leaders in Bihar, has now successfully entered the Dalit domain.
The NDA has worked out a major social engineering formula by bringing two Dalit leaders of Bihar—Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan and Hindustani Awam Morcha’s Jitan Ram Manjhi. The SCs form about 16 per cent of the state population.
The NDA’s experiment may appear similar to the Dalit-Brahmin alliance in Uttar Pradesh in 2007. But in that case the chief ministership was in the hand of BSP chief Mayawati. In Bihar, both the Dalit leaders are likely to play second fiddle. Also, the two Dalit leaders got refuge at the behest of BJP at a time their stocks were low. With a weak bargaining power, they have started showing signs of flexibility.
The saffron party leadership is not only facing the challenge of keeping their flock together, but also to manage the inner contradictions of alliance partners. The emergence of Manjhi as a new Dalit icon may create problem to an established leader like Paswan and their recent spat indicated a struggle for one-upmanship.
This election will prove how far Manjhi is useful to the BJP, as he would contest for the first time while leading a new party.
As one coming from the “Musahar” (rat-eater) community, considered most backward among Dalits, and having been a chief minister for nine months, he will campaign aggressively against Nitish who threw him out of power.
Manjhi has tried his best to consolidate Dalits votes, claiming that “with their 20-22 per cent votes they can make the government of their own choice if they get united”. He feels the number of Dalits—Census figures peg it at 16 per cent of the state population—is inaccurate.
Paswan comes from the numerically and socially much stronger Dalit sub-caste, Dussadh, and his party has always ended up getting 6-7 per cent of the votes and often proven to be a game changer in Bihar, such as in 2005 when Lalu Prasad was ousted.
Even amid the hammering in the last parliamentary election, the JD(U) and RJD-Congress combine had managed to get 45 per cent votes. Now that they are fighting united, the percentage may go up as Nitish Kumar and Lalu still have a hold on the Dalit votebank. Nitish tried his own strategy to win Dalit voters over by bringing a large section of them under the umbrella of a new Mahadalit category and starting “Mahadalit Mission” for their development.
Lalu, too, has made big claims, saying; “I have given them voice (self-respect) and people say that my tenure as Jungle Raj.”
The gradual loss of RJD was gain for BJP and JD(U) as BJP got 26 per cent and JD(U) could get 34 per cent the Dalit votes in 2014.
The Dalit electoral arithmetic would depend much on the Manjhi factor now. “With the disintegration of backward votes in the last elections, the electoral importance of unified Dalit votes have increased manifold,” said Kishori Das, a Dalit activist.