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Nitish banks on caste calculations, Muslims

The absence of an independent cadre may hurt JD(U)’s progress.

NAVTAN KUMAR  New Delhi | 15th Jun 2013

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar interacts with the media at the Patna airport on Friday. PTI

ihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is hoping that the support from Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) and Mahadalits, who together constitute around 40% of the state's voters, will see him through in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and 2015 Assembly elections. Add to this the vote from his own caste, Kurmi, and from Muslims and Kumar thinks that he can afford to part ways with the BJP over the question of Narendra Modi's elevation as the saffron party's campaign chief. Posturing against Modi, Kumar and his party JD(U) believe, will attract a substantial section of the Muslim vote, which has been going to Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD. However, the fact that the JD(U) does not have a cadre base like that of the BJP, and is largely dependent on the BJP cadre to work for it during elections, may hinder the JD(U)'s progress. As observers point out, Kurmis are dominant only in central Bihar, in areas such as Nalanda, Bihar Sharif and some parts of Patna. The EBCs and Mahadalits too are scattered all over the state. In case of a "divorce", the JD(U) will also lose the BJP vote that it gets by default. Most importantly, the parting of ways will make the Bihar elections multipolar, with the BJP, Congress, JD(U) and RJD contesting separately. This may even lead to a situation where the RJD gains the maximum among the four.

"If we pull out of the NDA, it will not affect the present government as the JD(U) alone has 118 seats, five less than the majority. We will save the government by getting the support from a few Independents, the CPI and even the Congress. However, in the process, we will consolidate the Muslim vote in our favour, which will comfortably see us through for the next few years. But if we continue with the Modi-led BJP, the Muslim vote share will surely go down," said a JD(U) leader on the condition of anonymity.

In the last Assembly elections, the JD(U) got 23% of the votes cast, while the BJP got 16% and the RJD 18%. JD(U) leaders say that the BJP shortfall may get compensated by an increase in Muslim votes. The JD(U) leader said that at present his party has the support of 20-25% Muslim voters, but following the "divorce", this percentage may go up to even 75%.

RJD's Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Legislative Council, Ghulam Gaus rubbished this claim: "A person who remained with the BJP for the last 17 years is suddenly finding fault with it. Muslims are not going to be misguided by this. Nitish thinks that they will vote for him en bloc, but that is not going to happen."

Nitish Kumar has been successful in making a dent in the OBC and Dalit votes that were earlier with Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, respectively. He reserved 16% seats in panchayats and urban local bodies. The poorest of the Dalits were declared as Mahadalits. A government commission identified 18 of the 22 Dalit sub castes, including Musahar, Bhuiyan, Dom, and Nat as Mahadalits. Mahadalits constitute 31% of the Dalit population in the state. He wooed EBCs and Mahadalits with schemes like free cycles, uniforms and old-age pension. All this paid off as the NDA got 206 out of the 243 seats in the 2010 Assembly elections.

JD(U) leaders say that it is this social engineering that has emboldened Kumar to talk about parting ways with the BJP. "Nitish wants to become a regional satrap without any BJP help, but at the same time wants to have a considerable clout at the Centre. He believes that support from these sections will give him at least 25 of the 40 of Bihar's Lok Sabha seats," said the JD(U) leader. Currently, the JD(U) has 20 seats in the Lok Sabha.Image 2nd

However, RJD's Ghulam Gaus claimed, "There has been an increase in the exploitation of EBCs and Mahadalits. So Nitish Kumar will not benefit from his so-called social engineering. The downfall of Nitish Kumar has begun as witnessed in Maharajganj and people are making up their mind to bring us back."

The JD(U) leader added that some sections of forward castes may drift away from them after they leave the NDA, but that loss will be "compensated" by fielding forward caste candidates. "One should keep in mind that the forward castes have never been hostile to Nitish Kumar, unlike to Lalu. So it is not that their support will reduce to zero," he said.

When asked about the future, a BJP minister in the Nitish government, Vinod Narayan Jha said, "At present we are working to save the alliance. So far we have not calculated whether it will be a loss for us or for the JD(U). If Nitish Kumar saves his government by jod-tod (political arithmetic), it will not be fair as the mandate was for the NDA and not for the JD(U). In case the JD(U) severs ties with us, we will demand a fresh election."

The BJP realises that it will lose the EBC and Mahadalit vote, which it has been getting for being in alliance with the JD(U). "But we have to think nationally. We may lose a few seats in Bihar but overall there are strong chances of voter polarization if Modi is projected as the leader, which will compensate the loss in Bihar," said a BJP leader.

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