In the Bihar Assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led NDA is all set to make a dent in Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Yadav vote-bank, which has been traditionally with his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) for many years.
Ever since Lalu Yadav came to power in 1990, and even after he got ousted in 2005, the RJD supremo has been carefully nurturing his Muslim-Yadav (MY) constituency, who comprise 14% and 16% of the population, respectively in Bihar. Together, they make a formidable social combination of 30%, which is sufficient to rule the state. Realising the potential of the Yadav factor in Bihar’s electoral battle, the BJP has taken a number of steps to snatch them from Lalu’s hold.
Although the Yadavs are spread all over the state, they are in a position to decide the outcomes of as many as 110 seats, including in areas such as Seemanchal, Kosi, Bhagalpur, Chapra, Vaishali and Siwan. In around 40 seats, Yadavs are fighting Yadavs. In the remaining 70 seats, Yadav are fighting others.
Some of the constituencies that are witnessing a Yadav vs Yadav fight are Madhepura, Singhesar, Supaul, Bihpur, Gopalpur, Alam Nagar, Chausa, Araria, Narpatganj, Forbesganj, Raniganj, Danapur, Belhar, Munger, Govindpur, Marhaura and Maner.
The BJP has fielded as many as 22 Yadav candidates, whereas its alliance partners, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) have fielded two each. The combined NDA figure is 26 Yadavs, which is a huge departure from the 2010 Assembly elections, when the BJP fielded only six Yadavs. The BJP, by increasing the number of its Yadav candidates is seen to be giving the message to OBCs that it is espousing their cause.
The JDU-RJD-Congress alliance (called Mahagathbandhan or the Grand Alliance) has fielded 64 Yadav candidates — RJD 48, JDU 12 and Congress 4. However, it’s not the numerical figures that matter much. Talk to the Yadav community members on the ground and one realises that Lalu no longer has the same command over his caste members as he used to do 20 years ago. “Woh to apne family ko hi set karne mein lage hain. Baki Yadav samudai ke liye unke liye koi jagah nahi (Lalu is only interested in establishing his family members in politics. He is not concerned about the rest of the Yadavs),” said a young Ramchandra Yadav at Raghopur. The Yadavs that this correspondent spoke to in Bihar made it clear that they were ready to vote for a Yadav candidate of a party other than RJD, if they found him better. This is a big change that has taken place in the last few years, according to observers tracking Bihar.
According to Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), the RJD has been losing its grip over Yadavs. He cited his own survey to say that RJD+ got 83% of Yadav votes in the 2005 Assembly elections. However, this share fell to 69% in the 2010 Assembly elections. This percentage came down further to 64 in last year’s Lok Sabha elections.
The study further reveals that the BJP and its allies were successful to a great extent in making a dent in Yadav votes in last year’s LS elections — 18% of Yadavs voted for the BJP alliance last year. This significant achievement, according to Kumar, happened because the BJP decided to nurture the Yadav leadership. “The party gave tickets to Yadavs and gave them prominence. Nand Kishore Yadav was made the state’s Leader of Opposition,” he said, adding, “the alliance is likely to make further gains in terms of Yadav votes in the Assembly elections.”
Lalu, said sources, understands this and is therefore making every attempt to win back Yadav voters. “Last time, the RJD had fielded only 33 Yadavs but this time, it has increased the number to 48. This actually shows Lalu’s desperation to bring all the Yadavs to his kitty,” said a source.
Yadavs tasted the fruits of power the most during the Lalu-Rabri era. The number of Yadav MLAs was 46 in 1980 and 47 in 1985. This rose exponentially during the Lalu-Rabri era to 63, 86 and 64, in 1990, 1995 and 2000 respectively. However, this came down to 54 in 2005, when Nitish Kumar came to power. This number further dipped to 39 in the 2010 Assembly elections in a 243-member Assembly.
“Obviously, the Yadav community was feeling disenchanted with Lalu as he did nothing beyond empowering them socially. There is no doubt that he did a lot by giving them a voice. But there has to be a follow-up of social empowerment by economic empowerment, in which Lalu miserably failed,” said an RJD insider.
He admitted that Lalu’s contribution to the Yadav community could not be “felt” by a large number of young Yadav voters, who were born around 1997 and are going to vote for the first time. “They have not seen Lalu raj as he was ousted from power when they were children. These young Yadav voters have a disconnect with Lalu, who, after losing power, did nothing to address their concerns, mainly in terms of employment and economic prosperity,” he said.
BJP leader and Union minister Ram Kripal Yadav, a former Lalu aide, was more emphatic: “Times have changed. Gone are the days when Yadavs used to ride buffaloes. Now they want to ride motorbikes, cars and planes. Now Laluji hardly talks about Yaduvanshis because he knows they have deserted him. They know that he did nothing for the community and instead just promoted his own family.”
The BJP, as part of its strategy, has been wooing Yadavs for the last few years. It gave ticket to Ram Kripal Yadav last year and made him a Union minister. Another Yadav leader, Bhupendra Yadav was made in-charge of Bihar. The party also promoted other leaders like Nand Kishore Yadav, Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav and Nityanand Rai. During the Hunkar rally in 2013, Narendra Modi, then a prime ministerial candidate, tried to connect with the Yaduvanshis by saying “I, a man from Yaduvanshi king, Shri Krishna’s Dwarka (in Gujarat), promise to take full care of all Yaduvanshis in Bihar.”
During the pre-Lalu era, Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav was the undisputed leader of the Yadav community. However, in the late 1980s, Lalu got this honour, which brought him to power for 15 years. Although there are quite a few good Yadav leaders in RJD like Bijendra Prasad Yadav, Mundrika Singh Yadav, Dadan Prasad Yadav and Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav, Lalu hardly gave any prominence to them, to ensure that he remains the undisputed Yadav leader. Promotion of his family members, subsequently, weakened his social justice plank.
Lalu’s slide in Yadav votes became evident when he himself was defeated from the Patliputra Lok Sabha constituency in the 2009 general elections. In 2010, his wife and former CM Rabri Devi lost the Assembly elections. Their daughter Misa Bharti was defeated in last year’s Lok Sabha elections. Lalu has fielded both his sons, Tej Pratap and Tejashwi, this time from Mahua and Raghopur constituencies. In both places, the NDA has fielded Yadav candidates: Ravindra Yadav in Mahua and Satish Kumar Yadav in Raghopur.
Another factor which is likely to further divide the Yadav vote is the Third Front, led by the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, of which Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Morcha is a part. Sources said this front is also fielding a large number of Yadav candidates.