With Nitish in NDA, BJP aims to bag ‘social justice’ share of votes
The BJP strategy is to confuse the Yadavs, who are behind Lalu Prasad, carve out the support of the Kushwaha (Koeri), and drive a wedge among the 36% EBCs
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar joined his favourite ally — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — deserting the Mahagathbandhan, and took oath within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fold on Sunday.
Though he earned sharp criticisms from the Opposition, as well as from different political parties, Nitish Kumar’s entry into the NDA fold seems to be a gambit by the BJP to blunt the edges of the social justice plank — which was being pursued vigorously by the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Yadav government so far.
The BJP strategy seems to be veering around the belief that an ideal mix of “Mandal with Kamandal” can reap rich benefits in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar, which possesses a typical trait of being a caste-conscious state and also having a deep respect for religion. With Nitish in the NDA, the BJP expects votes of the extremely backward castes and non-Yadav votes of the other backward castes, which constitute nearly 40 per cent votes.
The BJP grabbed the opportunity created by dissension in the INDIA bloc wherein Nitish Kumar was sulking for some time, accusing the Congress of mishandling the affairs of the Opposition alliance. Nitish apparently wanted to become the convener of INDIA but it was not accepted by the Congress and other allies.
A winning combo
The voting pattern since 2005 suggests that the Bihar battle was won comfortably whenever the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) teamed up, leaving the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad and the Congress in the lurch. Barring the 2015 Assembly polls, the BJP-JDU alliance has won the 2010 Assembly polls besides the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP wants to ensure that it repeats the 2019 Lok Sabha results in which it won 17 seats and the JD(U) 16 seats. The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan had secured six seats. Thus, the NDA had won 39 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats, while the Congress could secure only one seat and the RJD led by Lalu Prasad had drawn a blank. “The tally of 39 will be repeated now,” claimed the senior BJP leader and former MLA Prem Ranjan Patel.
The caste factor
For the BJP, the necessity to consider the caste factor was caused by a masterstroke played by Nitish Kumar last year by increasing the reservation quota to 65 per cent from 50 per cent after a caste survey suggested substantial growth of the backward castes.
Despite its main plank of Hindutva, which, in principle, crosses caste barriers, the BJP seems to have changed its strategy by trying to cajole different caste groups and roping in their individual leaders. Hitherto, the BJP has played mainly on Hindutva, thinking that religious sentiments of the majority population will encompass caste affiliations.
According to the caste survey findings, the backward castes account for nearly 63 per cent of the total population, including 36 per cent Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) categorised as Annexure One and 27 per cent Other Backward Castes (OBCs) categorised as Annexure Two. While the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes account for 19.65 per cent and 1.68 per cent, respectively, the upper castes account for 15.52 per cent of the 13.7 crore total population in Bihar.
The BJP dilemma
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and others have demanded that caste census be conducted throughout the country, but the BJP has remained in a dilemma and maintained a non-committal stance on this issue fearing a loss of support of the upper castes.
The Narendra Modi government has granted 10 per cent quota for the weaker sections among the upper castes, but it still fears that an expected rise in the number of Other Backward Castes (OBC) and Dalits after the caste census will lead to the demand for a hike in the quota at the national level and eventually annoy the upper castes.
That is why the initial response of the BJP was subdued. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party MP Sushil Kumar Modi had alleged discrepancies in the survey data claiming that the survey inflated the numbers of Muslims and Yadavs whereas the number of EBCs has been reduced. However, the BJP extended full support to the passage of the legislation in the state legislature.
The BJP is making desperate attempts to slice the hitherto solid social justice bloc before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The strategy is to confuse the Yadav voters, who are solidly behind Lalu Prasad, carve out the support of the Kushwaha (Koeri) and drive a wedge among the 36 per cent EBCs — which used to be referred to as “Jinn” by Lalu Prasad who claimed that ‘Ballot box se Jinn nikalega’ (Jinn will emerge out of the ballot boxes). The dominant sections of the Dalits stand divided among different political formations — big or small — in Bihar.
In a bid to lure the Yadavs, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai organised a meeting of members of the Yadav community on the occasion of Govardhan Puja on November 14. Rai made a fervent appeal to the Yadavs to support the BJP, contending that Lalu Prasad has done precious little for the uplift of the Yadavs. “I want to ask Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav why only 1.4 per cent Yadavs are in government jobs even though they were in power for 15 years. Yadavs still have the largest number of illiterates, why?” Rai asked.
The BJP also arranged a visit by the Madhya Pradesh chief minister Mohan Yadav to Bihar to convey the message to the Yadavs.
Splitting up Luv-Kush
The BJP strategy is to carve the Kushwaha (Koeri) bloc out of the famous Luv-Kush combination assiduously nurtured by Nitish Kumar over the years. While Luv represents the Kurmi caste, which Nitish Kumar belongs to, Kush represents the Koeris.
To achieve this goal, the BJP first appointed Rakesh Kumar alias Samrat Choudhary as state BJP president and now he has been inducted into the new government as deputy chief minister. Samrat belongs to a popular political family of Koeris. His father Shakuni Choudhary has been an MLA and MP and his mother Parvati Devi was an MLA from the Tarapur Assembly seat. Samrat started his political career as a minister in 1999 during the RJD regime. In 2014, he joined the JD(U) and became an MLC and then a minister. He joined the BJP in 2018.
Constituting 4.21 per cent of the total population, the Koeris have been eyeing the chief minister’s post for the past few years. They argued that it was now their turn to don the political mantle of Bihar, as Yadavs and Kurmis have been enjoying the fruits of power since 1990. They have been denied due share in legislature and state administration by the Yadavs during Lalu-Rabri regime and by the Kurmis during Nitish rule.
With Samrat at the helm of party affairs, the BJP is hopeful of getting the maximum support of the Koeris in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls as well as in the 2025 state Assembly elections.
Focus on dominant castes
The BJP will now focus on a few dominant castes with a sizeable population among the EBCs, like the fishermen (Mallah) community comprising nearly 6 per cent of the population. The Vikashsheel Insaan Party (VIP) leader and self-proclaimed “Son of Mallahs” Mukesh Sahani, who was an MLC and minister but his three MLAs later joined the BJP and one passed away, is yet to open his cards.
LJP (Ram Vilas) leader Chirag Paswan has certain reservations with Nitish Kumar but he is an important ally as Dusadhs (Paswans) constitute 5.31 per cent of state’s population. But Chirag is engaged in a no-holds-barred turf war with his uncle and Union minister Pashupati Kumar Paras.
The BJP has thrown a bet on Nitish Kumar once again but RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his son Tejashwi Yadav will be a potent challenger when it comes to securing the social justice votes in the 2024 elections.