‘The BJP has focused on bringing the Yadav and OBC vote banks into its fold’.
NEW DELHI: The Forward castes in Bihar, which since the advent of the Mandal era had no political options but to stay with the BJP, are now aggressively being wooed by the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). This pro-Forward sentiment within the RJD leadership, initiated by leader of opposition, Tejashwi Yadav, has coincided with the rise of narrative that the Forward castes are now being neglected by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), something that has been attributed to the BJP’s focused approach to bring the Yadav and OBC vote banks into its fold.
Earlier this week, Yadav, who was at the “Parshuram Jayanti”, a social event that was organized by Bhumihar-Brahmin Ekta Manch in Patna, said that the RJD will plan its political journey ahead while taking along the Brahmin-Bhumihar, while adding that the RJD has been a victim of a smear campaign that it was opposed to certain caste groups and favours others. Yadav told the audience that in the recent MLC elections, he gave tickets to five Bhumihars, out of which three won.
The “smear campaign” that Yadav was referring to was the long-held narrative that RJD and its chief Lalu Prasad Yadav were against the Forward castes, a political narrative that started during the early 1990s, something that Lalu has mentioned in chapter 7 of his autobiography, “Gopalganj to Raisina” where he writes about how one morning when he opened a Hindi newspaper, he saw a report that in which it was stated that Lalu had called for “BHURA-BAAL saaf karo (put in simple words: “Get rid of Bhumihar-Rajput-Brahmin-Lala (Kayastha). These four castes are clubbed as the Forward castes in Bihar. According to Lalu, he never said anything like this and he expressed his strong observations against the said report, even mulling filing a defamation suit against the newspaper but chose not to as it would have “wasted his time”.
The effort being put by Tejashwi Yadav to bring the Forward castes into his fold has raised a red flag in BJP, which for decades now has been the only choice of the Forward castes, which according to unofficial estimates, are around 20% of the entire population of the state.
According to a BJP MLA, the caste composition in the impending reshuffle of the Nitish Kumar cabinet will be a key event in the state politics. The fact that two prominent Forward caste leaders have been publicly insulted by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders in two separate incidents has further caused a sense of resentment among these Forward social groups and allowed Yadav to fish handsomely in troubled waters.
Last month, Bihar BJP leader and Assembly speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha, a Bhumihar, was involved in a spat with Chief Minister Nitish Kuma, a Kurmi by caste, inside the Assembly house. On 14 March, the CM entered into a heated exchange with Sinha for raising an issue “again and again”. At the end, it was Sinha who had to back down. The BJP state leadership chose to ignore this incident.
Similarly, on 13 April, former minister and multiple time MLAs, Nitish Mishra, who is among the most prominent Brahmin face of the BJP, was publicly “insulted” by Union minister Nityanand Rai, a Yadav, for sharing his thoughts during an intra-party discussion regarding the birth anniversary of Veer Kunwar Singh, a Rajput.
Both these incidents were widely shared and discussed among the numerous forward caste groups in the state and were presented as examples of how poorly the BJP was treating the Brahmin-Bhumihar. In the Bochaha bypoll elections, announced on 16 April, the RJD nominee won by a massive 36,600 votes and defeated the BJP nominee comfortably. According to BJP insiders, the massive loss in Bochaha could not have been possible unless the Bhumihar-Brahmin decided to vote against the BJP candidate. The BJP had made the Bochaha a big prestige fight as is clear from the number of senior leaders it sent there for campaigning.
According to political observers, for the first time since 1990, Bihar politics was again witnessing caste churning. “Post the Mandal commission announcement, Yadav and Muslims went to RJD, OBCs went to RJD and JDU, SCs went with LJP, the Forward castes had no option but to stick with the BJP. Now that has changed. All these caste blocks are now moving from political umbrella to the other depending on who is taking care of their interests. The Forward castes, for the first time in the last 30 years, are feeling the need to explore other options apart from the BJP. One reason for this is a sense among the BJP leadership that the Forward castes have no option but to stick with BJP. However, this sense of complacency has led to the rude shock that they got in the MLC elections and the Bochaha bypolls. Tejaswi is smart enough to gauge that Brahmin-Bhumihar are now more or less disenchanted with the BJP and hence his recent focus to bring them into his fold,” a Patna-based senior journalist said.