The Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) that were nurtured by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, appear to be slipping away from his hold, and moving towards the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
The EBCs constitute about 28% of voters in Bihar, which are other than the Yadavs, Koeris, Kurmi, Baniya etc, and have so far remained a scattered group. Earlier, they were with Lalu Yadav, but gradually turned towards Nitish Kumar, who wooed them by welfare schemes like free cycles to children, school uniforms and old-age pension.
All this paid rich political dividends to the NDA, as Nitish was its part. As a result, the NDA got a majority in the 2010 Assembly elections. However, since Nitish is out of NDA and joined hands with Lalu Yadav, BJP has made every attempt to woo this segment to its side and has been successful to a great extent.
According to a study carried out by Sanjay Kumar of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), after last year’s Lok Sabha elections, “among the lower OBCs (the EBCs), 53% voted for the BJP alliance, while only 18% voted for the JDU, the party which championed the cause of lower OBCs in Bihar.” The study found that only 10% of them voted for the RJD-Congress alliance.
What was interesting, according to the study, is that the JDU failed miserably to consolidate even its core support base, i.e. Kurmis and Koeris. The figures indicated that 26% voted for the BJP and its allies, while 30% voted for the JDU.
“We have given prominence to EBC leaders in the state unit. Ours is not a one-man party like RJD or JDU. We have leaders from all sections of society. As regards EBCs, we have good number of leaders like Prem Kumar, Renu Devi and Rambadan Rai,” said a senior Bihar BJP leader ,Sanjay Mayukh. Very recently, a senior EBC leader from JDU, Bhim Singh joined the BJP.
The EBCs include castes such as Lohars, Kumhars, Badhais, Kahars, Sonars, Tatwas, Telis, Dhanuks, Kewats, etc, but do not form a vote bank for any party. They have voted for different parties in different elections.
This time also the EBCs appeared to be inclined towards the BJP-led alliance. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Kumar said: “We carried out a study two months ago and that time the EBCs appeared inclined toward NDA, reflecting the same trend during the last year’s Lok Sabha elections.” However, he was quick to add that the reservation issue which came into the picture during the campaign may see some decline in this edge, as there might be fear that reservations could be snatched from them, though it is difficult to say the extent of its impact. Kumar said the EBCs started turning towards BJP-alliance as they felt that they did not enjoy the fruits of power under Lalu or Nitish. “Therefore, they thought it was better for them to vote for the BJP. Now it remains to be seen whether this trend continues in this Assembly elections,” he said. However, a BJP leader asserted that reservation was not an issue for voters in Bihar. “Our leaders have been assuring, in the strongest manner, that there was no threat to reservations under NDA rule. The country had NDA government in the past. Many states have been, and are, ruled by the NDA. But there has never been an attempt to snatch away reservations. People know that and therefore there is no question of people being suspicious about BJP on this front. This is a propaganda spread by the Mahagathbandhan that BJP will snatch reservations,” he said.