New Delhi, Mar 23 : The announcement of NDA candidates for the ensuing Lok Sabha polls in Bihar has made it clear that despite the garb of development and neo-patriotism; ultimately when it comes to the electoral battle – it is the caste that matters.
In 2015 assembly polls, the verdict in favour of Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad duo ultimately showed that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's poll managers were ‘disconnected’ with the reality of Bihar.
This time around too – leaders and political observers in the state are not talking about performance of sitting members or even stardom. This is one reason - the BJP has so confidently decided to do away with ‘rebel’ Shatrughan Sinha. Thus Ravi Shankar Prasad is BJP nominee from Patna Sahib – a hub of upper caste. Mr Prasad like Sinha is a Kayastha and thus will be able to give a fight to the silver screen popular star - especially with the support of ground level RSS workers, say sources.
To take on RJD's formidable support base among Yadavs, BJP's list has Ashok Kumar Yadav from Madhubani and Ram Kripal Yadav from Patliputra.
In the BJP list is also Chhedi Paswan, who will be seeking re-election from Sasaram wherein he had defeated former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar in 2014.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP along with LJP and RLSP had polled 39.41 per cent votes had won 31 parliamentary seats and percentage wise in 2015 assembly elections in Bihar, it dropped to 34.10 per cent.
The RLSP is this time with RJD – the dominant force of Yadavs.
It is largely due to caste factors that the BJP has also again renominated Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh from East Champaran – though there is no dispute that his performance was lacklustre.
"If Modi government faced people's anguish it was on farm distress; but Radha Mohan Singh has sailed home with the party ticket," a party leader said here.
In another seat Saran – the saffron party nominee will be Rajiv Pratap Rudy – who was dropped by Prime Minister Modi from the council of Ministers in 2017.
''When it comes to electoral arithmetic and contest on ground, in Bihar no one talks about foundation stones. On August 18, 2015, Prime Minister Modi had announced a package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore but the BJP lost miserably and JD(U)-RJD and Congress picked up as many as 179 seats of the 243 seats,'' says a party leader.
But, sources said this time, the combination of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan’s Dalit caste equations supported by Nitish Kumar’s ‘image’ and Prime Minister Modi’s wide acceptability among upper castes Biharis make NDA a formidable challenger.
Thus, a right balance has been stuck between Brahmins, Rajputs and Bhumihars as well. “Like in UP, Brahmins in Bihar are reckoned as opinion makers and their anguish in 2015 swung voters of other castes too against the BJP as Brahmins in villages still offer persuasive arguments in tea stalls to work places including women,” a senior party leader said.
The poll strategists, therefore, say while BJP leadership did not mind surrendering before Nitish Kumar’s dominance, it did the right calculation with castes this time.
In 2015 assembly polls – the BJP’s own scrutiny of poll performance strongly recommended that the strategists had simply gone haywire in ‘overestimating the strength’ of its regional allies especially the Maha Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi.
"It was a poor political combination. True, at the end of the day as results came in 2015, what amazed everyone is that the NOTA vote share was bigger than HAM party led by Jitan Ram Manjhi,” the source said.
In fact some leaders say the caste combination is too good for NDA this time. “It is actually like the 2010 equations,” says one senior leader when put together, BJP-JD(U) picked up around 40 per cent of vote share. In 2010 assembly polls – the BJP vote share was 17 per cent and JD(U)’s was 22.5 per cent.
In 2010 – assembly polls – the caste magic had worked so successfully that out of 38 reserved seats for Scheduled Castes – as many as 37 were with the NDA.
“We are coming back to the same scene,” the leader exuded confidence.
In terms of caste management by JD(U) – that is immensely banking on Nitish Kumar’s ‘Susashan Babu (a doer Chief Minister) image – the BJP sources say the alliance partner has done well with effective handling of ‘Ati pichchara (Most Backward Castes)'.
In this respect, Nitish Kumar’s equations have worked well in the past among Rosiya workers, Tola Sewaks and Vikas Mitras.
Paradoxically, Kumar himself is from a smaller caste.
The BJP leaders in Delhi and also in Patna say Nitish Kumar’s Liquor Prohibition Law has gone done well with poorer sections – chiefly Dalits and MBCs.
Over one lakh people have been arrested in last few years in the state for violating prohibition law and this has helped bring general improvement in the society especially among the poorer strata, they say. (UNI)