Battle For Bihar: As Nitish-Tejashwi Clash, Caste Politics Dominates Pollscape

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The poll bugle has been sounded and Bihar is all set to go for a three-phase poll from October 28. And as parties get engrossed in poll arithmetic, the importance of caste metric is gaining currency by the minute this time around as well.

With an eye on consolidating their vote share, poll strategists within different parties are working overtime to strike a chord with the voters via the caste chord.

Take the Bankipur assembly seat for instance. Congress has fielded Shatrughan Sinha’s son Luv Sinha against BJP’s sitting-MLA Nitin Navin from the seat. This area has over three lakh voters and Kayasthas are in majority in terms of numbers followed by Vaishyas, Muslims, Dalits, Yadavs, Brahmans, Rajputs and others. Both the BJP and rival Congress have fielded candidates belonging to the Kayastha community to woo a large section of the voters. Experts feel that Independent candidate Shushma Sahu and founder of Plural Party Pushpam Priya would cut votes of the BJP while Muslim votes would go to the Congress candidate.

The Rashtriya Lok Samta Party meanwhile has given tickets to 37 candidates for the first two phases of the polls, 18 of whom represent the Koiri caste and two are from the Kurmi community. RLSP Chief Upendra Kushwaha has set up a plan to topple Nitish in his own game as both Koiri and Kurmi are traditional supporters of CM Nitish Kumar. He has also distributed tickets to four Muslims, three Rajputs, three Yadavs and one to a Bhumihar candidate.

BJP on the other hand is sticking to its traditional vote base. The so-called upper castes dominate the list of 110 candidates fielded for the upcoming elections. Out of 110 candidates, 51 are from the upper castes though only 16 per cent of Bihar’s population belong to the upper caste. Of the rest, 22 tickets have gone to Rajputs, 15 to Bhumihars, 11 to Brahmins and three to Kayasthas.

BJP has also kept Dalits, Mahadalits in the mix of candidates. About 50 seats have been given to candidates hailing from SC/ST communities. National general secretary, Bhupendra Yadav, said, “BJP believes in the empowerment of all castes and groups. We also have a larger social base as compared to other political parties.”

Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, Mukesh Sahni of Vikassheel Insaan Party welcomed the step and said that the move has an appeal cutting across caste lines.

LJP Chief Chirag Paswan has also followed the suit. Most of LJP’s candidates are contesting against JD(U). Brahmins, Bhumihars, and Dalits are dominating the list of LJP candidates.

Meanwhile Ram Vilas Paswan’s demise has also given a new twist to caste politics in the state with JD(U) sources saying that the party has recast its strategy post-Paswan and has involved maximum number of Dalit leaders to project Nitish’s works for social welfare of Dalits, Mahadalits.

This comes in the backdrop of Chirag Paswan saying that his father was himiliated by JD(U) and writing an emotive letter stating, “It has already been taken seriously by the SC communities.”

“JD(U) is publicizing through mobile vans its promise for a job to a family member of any Dalit killed in crime, reservation to Dalits in local bodies, the Jal Nal Yojna and other works for Dalits to counter the LJP influence,” a JD(U) leader said.

Uppers castes form 16 per cent population of the state and also have the highest share in seats. While Muslims account for around 17 per cent, Dalit population stands at 16 per cent.

RJD will contest on 144 seats while Congress has been given 70 seats. A total of 29 seats have been allocated to Left parties. On the other side, BJP-JDU has arrived at a 121-122 seat formula.

 

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