Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi Yadav
The RJD's internal survey suggested that it has an edge over the BJP in getting the fruits of the caste survey. File photo shows Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with his former deputy Tejashwi Yadav.

RJD could enjoy edge even as Nitish, Tejashwi bicker over caste survey

But, proportion of benefit would vary across constituencies, based on caste identity of candidates in fray

A credit war for conducting the caste survey and the subsequent job quota hike and providing jobs to the youth – has ensued between the Janata Dal (United) (JDU) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) ever since Bihar Chief Minister NitishKumar switched over to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) from the INDIA bloc.

It has become a political tool to outmanoeuvre each other as the 2024 Lok Sabha elections draw closer.

A day after Nitish did the somersault, then Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Prasad Yadav came up with advertisements claiming full credit for the caste survey and the job quota hike. The RJD leader also claimed he has been at the forefront in providing over 4.5 lakh government jobs to the jobless in the state during the Mahagathbandhan government.

Bickering over credit

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, at a rally in Purnia during the course of his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, too, claimed that Nitish conducted the caste survey under pressure from the RJD and the Congress. Nitish was feeling trapped and the BJP provided him a way out, he added.

But Nitish hurriedly dismissed it, saying it was entirely his move and “others” are making false claims to take the credit. “I took the decision by taking nine political parties into confidence and met the Prime Minister. When I was indirectly told that the Centre cannot do it, I conducted it,” Nitish said, reacting to the claim made by Rahul and Tejashwi.

Amid this verbal duel between the RJD-Congress and the JD(U), the BJP is revelling in Nitish’s somersault to its side, presuming that its victory in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections is now assured in Bihar. Its conviction emanates from the new Mandal-Kamandal combo that rises from Nitish Kumar’s entry into the NDA fold. Nitish has been a strong votary of social justice.

RJD-Congress offensive

But the current euphoria is unlikely to last for long and may give way to despair in view of the aggressive Mandal campaign the RJD, the Congress, and the Left have planned to launch in Bihar and other parts of the country before the Lok Sabha polls. The combination is poised to reap the benefits of the caste survey in the 2024 polls in Bihar.

In fact, the caste census became the main plank of the INDIA bloc after the Nitish-Tejashwi government conducted it in Bihar and hiked the job reservation quota to 65 per cent from 50 per cent in accordance with the new figures of population of the different castes.

Now that Nitish has deserted the INDIA bloc and joined hands with the BJP, he will have to adhere to the BJP’s official stand on the issue. The caste census demand has been deliberately ignored by the Narendra Modi government, and the BJP has so far maintained a non-committal stance on the issue fearing a loss of upper caste votes.

Therefore, the responsibility of championing the cause of social justice and conducting a caste census has fallen on the Congress, which is the anchor of the INDIA bloc. Not surprisingly then, Rahul Gandhi during his public meetings in Kishanganj and Araria declared that the Congress would vigorously pursue INDIA bloc’s unfinished agenda of conducting a nationwide caste census and take it to its logical end.

Shared benefits

While the verbal duel in political circles continues, an internal survey conducted by the RJD indicated that the fruits of the caste survey and the subsequent hike in reservation quota would be shared by Tejashwi and Nitish in the 2024 Lok Sabha and 2025 Assembly elections in Bihar.

It suggested an edge to the RJD but the proportion of benefit would vary in different constituencies based on the caste identity of the candidates in the fray.

A BJP survey, too, suggested that it might not get adequate seats from Bihar to meet its 400-seat target in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and its tally may not exceed 90 in the Bihar state polls if those are held simultaneously.

Since the internal survey of the BJP was not encouraging enough despite the Ayodhya Ram Temple euphoria, the BJP facilitated the entry of Nitish-led JD(U) into the NDA.

RJD’s expectations

RJD leader Lalu Prasad has been the mascot of Mandal politics and commands the support of different castes across the social justice spectrum. He has a fair share in the Mandal slice and his support base is not limited to Muslims and Yadavs (M-Y combination), who constitute nearly 32 per cent of the total population.

Since the new reservation formula in Bihar was implemented by the Nitish-Tejashwi government, the RJD expects to get a fair share of the non-Yadav OBC and EBC votes. The past voting pattern in Bihar suggests that, barring the Yadavs, the three major castes of the OBC bloc — Kurmis, Koeris, and Vaishyas — have voted against the RJD.

The EBCs used to vote en bloc for Nitish but 110-odd castes of this group are now a divided lot and owe allegiance to different political parties or combinations.

The EBC factor

The main target of all political formations would be the EBCs, who constitute 36 per cent of the total population. Whichever party gives them a proportionate and fair representation as candidates in the 2024 Lok Sabha and 2025 Assembly polls will likely get their votes. As regards the SC votes, the Paswans are with the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which is part of the NDA, while the Chamars have been with the RJD-Congress combine.

The RJD, which is now at the forefront of the INDIA alliance in Bihar, faces flak over the dominance of the Yadavas, its main supporting caste, with a population of 14.26 per cent. The Yadavas are accused of being the biggest oppressors of the OBCs and EBCs, grabbing a larger share in politics and administration at the cost of other castes of the social-justice bloc.

However, RJD leaders dismiss this allegation and accuse the BJP and its allies of setting negative narratives against its main supporting caste group. Tajashwi floated an 'A-to-Z formula' encompassing all sections of society.

Seminal change

The voting pattern of the 2020 Assembly elections indicated a seminal change in the social and political arena of Bihar. It proved that identity politics, combined with development, can influence electoral politics. Though the NDA formed the government, the RJD emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats. Tejashwi’s promise of 10 lakh jobs seems to have raised the hopes of the youth who voted for the RJD.

The 2020 Assembly election results came as a rude shock for Nitish, who, despite being part of the NDA, could win only 43 seats with a vote share of 15.40 per cent. The BJP garnered 74 seats with 19.46 per cent votes while the LJP won only one seat.

The LJP, however, spoiled the prospects of the JDU, allegedly at the behest of the BJP. The LJP was then part of the NDA at the Centre but not in Bihar and it contested on 134 seats in the state polls. The LJP hurt the JDU in 54 seats and, in 25 seats where the JDU came second, the LJP had more votes than the victory margin.

Overall, the NDA got 37.26 per cent votes and the Mahagathbandhan got 37.23 per cent votes in the 2020 polls. The vote difference was merely 0.03 per cent. The AIMIM made inroads, winning five seats in the northeastern region, also called Seemanchal, while the extreme Left outfit CPI-ML won 12 seats, while the CPI and the CPM won two seats each.

Lok Sabha record

However, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 22 seats and its two allies LJP and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) won six and three seats, respectively, garnering nearly 39 per cent votes. The RJD won four seats while its allies, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, won two and one, respectively. The RJD secured 20.10 per cent votes, while the Congress gathered 8.40 per cent votes, and the NCP could get only 1.20 per cent votes.

The JD(U) had contested the elections on its own and could win only two seats with a vote share of nearly 16 per cent. The JD(U) had also got a substantial number of Muslim votes due to the secular credentials of Nitish Kumar, who had challenged the nomination of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate and quit the NDA.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Nitish returned to the NDA fold and won 16 seats with an increased vote share of nearly 22 per cent. The BJP secured 23.58 per cent votes with 17 seats, and LJP garnered six seats with 7.86 per cent votes. With other smaller allies, the NDA secured 37.26 per cent votes. The RJD could not win any seat but it secured 15.68 per cent votes while the Congress got 7.85 per cent votes. The Left Front polled 3 per cent votes.

While the BJP is banking largely on the Mandal-Kamandal formula, the EBC votes hold the key in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar.

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