Ground slips under feet of Nitish Kumar

PM Narendra Modi in roadshow in Bihar

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BJP-JD (U) alliance faces test of caste equations in Bihar

By Manish Anand

New Delhi, May 13: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar held the lotus symbol alongside Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a roadshow in Patna yesterday. He looked ashen-faced. The local Lok Sabha candidate of the BJP, Ravi Shankar Prasad, exuded child-like enthusiasm.

Political actors look tired and fatigued in the seven-phased Lok Sabha elections in Bihar. Polling is underway in five Lok Sabha seats of Bihar on Monday.

Fate of Union Minister Giriraj Singh will be locked in the EVMs (electronic voting machines) by Monday evening. His parliamentary constituency Begusarai has seen keen electioneering.

The BJP won the Begusarai Lok Sabha seat by a wide margin in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Against 56 per cent votes of Singh, his closest rival, Kanhaiya Kumar, polled a mere 22 per cent votes. But ground reports suggest that the saffron gust has blown over the Leningrad of Bihar, and now the political wind is still and humid.

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Singh had to laboriously invent the ghost of Pakistan to build his campaign. The Communist Party of India, a constituent of the Indian National Developmental and Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), worked to stitch an alliance of the other backward castes (OBCs) and the extremely backward castes (EBCs).

Similar reports of the OBC and the EBC consolidation in favour of the constituents of INDIA are coming from several of the parliamentary constituencies in Bihar. Barring Kurmi, the caste of the Bihar CM, there are ground reports suggesting drift among the non-Yadav OBCs.

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The kinship of Kurmi-Koeri is also under stress as per ground reports. Together, the two castes account for roughly nine per cent of the electorate in Bihar. They also have been the mainstay of the Bihar chief minister’s social engineering for almost two decades.

The drift in the Koeri (Kushwaha) vote base appears to have also touched the caste fault lines in the Bihar politics. “The upper caste voters are also adjusting to the claims of new realignment of the voters to the disadvantage of the NDA candidates,” said a senior political observer, who recently toured parts of Bihar.

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The caste template of the BJP and the JD (U) alliance solely hinges on the upper castes and the non-Yadav backward castes combination. The BJP transfers the upper caste votes to the JD (U) while benefiting from the EBC-Mahadalit support base of the Bihar CM.

By building the political template around caste survey and also getting the exercise done, the Bihar chief minister abandoned his Mandal companions to take shelter under the saffron umbrella. Patna-based political observers argue that the volte face of the Bihar chief minister at a time when his caste poll pot was ready to cook the electoral meal is eroding the traditional support base of the JD (U).

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“Worse is the fact that the BJP workers in Bihar were given an unexpected jolt with the top brass of the party joining hands with Nitish Kumar. The chemistry on the ground for the BJP-JD (U) alliance lacked the essential ingredients. But, even half-heartedly, the BJP workers have done their duties to extend support to the JD (U) candidates,” said an old Rashtriya Swayam Sewak (RSS) hand from Bhagalpur in Bihar.

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