RJD walks a tightrope as it steps beyond Muslim-Yadav vote bank

Recent by-poll setback suggests party needs to be shrewder in caste equation rejig; a more visible Lalu Prasad may have harmed its chances, too

Going forward, the RJD should shed its old image and project itself as a progressive party, say political analysts. File photo shows party leaders Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav.

RJD’s defeats in the recent by-polls in Bihar are likely to persuade the party to move cautiously while attempting to expand its social base beyond its traditional Muslim-Yadav (MY) vote bank.

Eight RJD candidates from the upper castes and Baniya community — considered BJP bastions — had won in the 2020 Assembly election in Bihar. Buoyed by the success of non-Yadav and non-Muslim candidates in that poll, the RJD had made a similar experiment in the by-polls, too, but that did not pan out well for the party.

Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur by-polls

The by-polls to Kusheshwar Asthan and Tarapur were held following the deaths of incumbent MLAs, both belonging to the JD(U). It turned out to a tough electoral battle between ruling JD(U) and the main opposition party, the RJD, in view of the NDA returning to power in the State with a wafer-thin majority. Finally, the JD(U) retained both the seats, giving a fillip to the stability of the Nitish Kumar government.

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The RJD had fielded a Musahar (a Mahadalit) candidate at Kusheshwar Asthan and a Baniya at Tarapur, but both lost the elections. The margin of defeat in Kusheshwar Asthan was a particularly significant one — the JD(U) candidate defeated his RJD rival by 12,698 votes. In Tarapur, the margin was 3,821 votes.

RJD general secretary Shyam Rajak emphasised that the defeats do not mean the party’s efforts to expand its social base beyond its traditional vote bank have not paid dividends. In Tarapur constituency, the RJD candidate had bagged 44% of the total votes, though only 19% of the voters were from non-Yadav and non-Muslim communities, he pointed out. Similarly, the RJD candidate in Kusheshwar Asthan constituency got 13% of non-Yadav and non-Muslim votes.

Rajak further said that in Kusheshwar Asthan, the RJD could not get Musahar votes substantially even as the party fielded a candidate from the same caste. This was broadly due to two reasons — first, a large number of Musahars are migrant workers employed in different cities, so they could not cast their votes; second, women voters from the caste exercised their franchise under the influence of local factors.

Growing acceptance

Krishna Prasad, a senior journalist from Munger, under which the Tarapur constituency falls, said a good chunk of Baniya voters have voted in favour of the RJD in the by-polls, showing the party’s growing acceptance among its non-traditional vote bank.

Political analyst Pushyamitra said the RJD has to chalk out its plan prudently if it wants to woo voters from non-Yadav and non-Muslim communities. It may even face a backlash from its traditional MY voters if it tries to woo other communities without taking the former into confidence, he added.

The RJD should shed its old image and project itself as a progressive party by taking non-MY communities into confidence for expanding its social base, he further said.

Senior journalist Pravin Bagi said the RJD has a political compulsion to woo other castes as the BJP has been successful in weaning away a chunk of Yadav votes from the party. It, however, has to move very cautiously in its bid to expand its social base, he added.

RJD leader and Lalu Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav had triggered a row during electioneering in the last Assembly election, when he used the term ‘Babu Saheb’. The term is commonly used to refer to upper caste Rajputs in Bihar — Tejashwi was seeking to reach out to Yadavs, non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits. When the issue started snowballing into a major controversy, he downplayed his ‘Babu Saheb’ remark by contending that he had used the term for corrupt officials.

Is Lalu’s charisma on the wane?

The defeats of RJD candidates in the by-polls have triggered a debate on whether party patriarch Lalu Prasad’s charisma is still strong enough to tilt the balance in elections.  Lalu had campaigned for his party’s candidates at both seats but could not ensure their victories despite the much-hyped campaigning.

Political analyst Bagi said Tejashwi had managed to secure the highest number of seats in the last Assembly election for his party even in the absence of his father. Lalu’s campaigning only gave the party’s rivals an opportunity to target the RJD by reviving memories of ‘jungle raj’, he added. “Lalu’s campaigning proved a big reason for the defeat of the RJD in the by-polls,” Bagi contended.

Political analyst Pushyamitra said Lalu is known for his ‘divisive’ speeches and his campaigning only helped polarise anti-Lalu votes. In the last Assembly election, Lalu was guiding his party from behind the scenes but in the by-polls, he came to the limelight, harming the prospects of his party`s candidates ultimately.

Lalu called Bhakt Charan Das, the Congress leader in charge of Bihar, a bhakchonhar (unintelligent person). He further said he will do a visarjan (immersion) of Nitish and his government. These speeches only created the impression that he has not changed over the years, observed Pushyamitra.

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