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It is the War of the Backwards in Bihar

September 25, 2015

Bihar has not seen any upper caste chief minister after 1990. Call it a renaissance, or an uprising of the backwards. Yet, tautly the 2015 state elections is the turf war between the backwards in a state that was once the seat of the mighty “low caste” Mauryas, whose empire was the largest ever in the Indian subcontinent.

The Yadavs could well be called the modern day ‘Mauryas’ of Bihar. Their satrap, Lalu Yadav, ruled with an iron grip over Bihar throughout the 1990s and the first five years of the new millennium. But unlike the Mauryas, whose glory went far and wide as they expanded their great Empire from Magadh to Assam to Balochistan to South East Iran, Lalu’s rule saw mass exodus of people from Bihar to other states! His regime was termed as “jungle raj” by his adversaries. Subsequently, his Rashtriya Janata Dal lost power to the Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party combine in 2005 and Yadavs did lose their clout in state politics which was now under a “Kurmi” (an OBC like the Yadav) chief minister Nitish Kumar, supported by the “upper caste” BJP (though even the deputy chief minister from the BJP side in the erstwhile JD(U)-BJP alliance, Sushil Modi, was an OBC).

A decade later, the Yadavs have returned with a vengeance as Bihar is further broken into various splinter groups of the backwards. No exaggeration, therefore, that it is the war of the backwards in Bihar this elections!

The BJP as well as the Mahagathbandhan or grand alliance of the Congress, Lalu’s RJD and the ruling Janata Dal (United) after it came out of the NDA in 2013, all have vied with each other to give the Yadavs a lion’s share in tickets. While the BJP has fielded 22 Yadavs in the fray, the Mahagathbandhan has 64 Yadav contestants this time. As expected, of these 64, 48 belong to Lalu’s RJD while JD(U) has fielded 14 and the Congress, 2 Yadav candidates.

Take the Yadavs into account and then the stakes of the backwards rise to 55 per cent in the Mahagathbandhan, and a robust 60 per cent in the BJP, which ironically is considered to have a sizeable upper caste support base. They share percentage jumps by adding the share of Dalit and OBC centric parties such as BJP-led National Democratic Alliance constituents, the Lok Janshakti Party, the Hindustani Awam Morcha and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, as well the Third Front constituents (Mulayam Singh Yadav’s) Samajwadi Party, and (Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav’s) Jan Adhikar Party Loktantrik.

What is significant is that the backwards whether the OBCs (Other Backward Castes), EBC (Extremely Backward Class), ST (Scheduled Tribes), Dalits and Mahadalits who enjoy reservation in government jobs and admissions, now also dominate the poll scene in Bihar.

The Upper Castes in the state, in the process, have been relegated to play the second fiddle. It is no coincidence, therefore, that only two major political parties in Bihar – the BJP and the JD(U)—have upper castes as their respective state party presidents. All other major parties including the Congress have either Dalit, Mahadalit or OBC at the helm in the state.

Besides, both these upper caste leaders – the state BJP president Mangal Pandey or state JD(U) president Vashishth Narayan Singh – are perennially under the shadow of the backward leaders of their respective party. While from BJP, Sushil Kumar Modi (an OBC) and Dr. Prem Kumar (an EBC) are much better placed than Pandey to stake a claim on the CM’s chair in case the party wins, Singh’s fate is well sealed since Nitish is the unanimous choice of the Mahagathbandhan for the CM’s post.

This brings back the focus on the war of the backwards in Bihar in this state elections. Caste equations indeed have been a major deciding factor in the selection of candidates.

Consider the BJP first. Despite its development plank, caste arithmetic did weigh heavy in its selection of candidates. Out of its 153 contestants declared thus far, only 65 belong to the Upper Caste –30 Rajputs, 18 Bhumihars, 14 Brahmins, 3 Kayasthas.

The list of those belonging to the OBCs, SCs, STs, Dalits and Extremely Backward Class is much bigger including 22 Yadavs, 19 Vaishyas,6 Kushwahas, 3 Kurmis, 22 SCs, 1 Scheduled Tribe, and 14 EBCs, besides 2 Muslims. This makes it obvious that the BJP could not sidestep the caste factor in favour of development.

As far as the Mahagathbandhan is concerned, here the major partners JD(U) and RJD are contesting 101 seats each, while the third constituent, Congress is contesting on 41 seats. Together they have fielded 134 candidates (55%) from backward castes, 40 candidates (16%) from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, besides 33 (14%) Muslims.

As it is, Bihar has 38 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and 2 for Scheduled Tribes (ST). So no dispute over the seats allocations there! This brings to the focus, the sizeable 15.5 percent Muslim votes in the state that was loyal to RJD in recent times. The entry of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) as well the credentials of Third Front chief Mulayam could well split the Muslims. While the BJP well almost ignored the Muslim factor by giving just two seats to the Muslims, the Mahagathbandhan still tries hard to retain Muslims to their fold. In the 2010 state elections, it was though not the RJD but the JD(U), which got the largest number of seven Muslim MLAs elected then. Yet the JD(U)’s association with the BJP then meant the party could win just one seat in constituencies with over 40 percent Muslim votes.

Among the castes, it is significant that the Mahagathbandhan not only gave preference to the Yadavs, but even factored in Kushwaha to pose a challenge to the NDA ally Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP. While 16 got tickets from Nitish’s own Kurmi caste, it is significant that 25 EBCs, who are considered to have a major say in government formation with significant 45% votes comprising 130 castes, have been given tickets by the Mahagathbandhan. In comparison, the upper castes – Goswami, Bhumihar, Rajput, Brahman and Kayasth were significantly marginalised as they respectively got 1, 13, 12, 9 and 5 seats only,and that, all put together, is only 16% of the total 242 candidates thus far fielded by the Mahagathbandhan. (Only one seat is remaining pending as of now from where the JD(U) will field its candidate).

With the upper castes sidelined by all the major groups and parties in Bihar, this does not mean that everything is hunky dory within the backwards. Already, there is an ongoing “civil war” within the Dalit and OBC constituents of the NDA in Bihar over the allocation of seats. The story is no different within the Mahagathbandhan either.

While in the NDA, the sons-in-law of LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan as well as Hindustani Awam Party (Secular) leader Jitan Ram Manjhi – both hailing from the Dalit and Mahadalit category — have raised a banner of revolt against their fathers-in-law, the same is true in case of Mahagathbandhan leader and RJD supremo Lalu Yadav (an OBC). Moreover, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan too was upset over HAM getting a “better” deal from the BJP despite the fact that the LJP is contesting twice as many seats as the HAM. The LJP also did not want some present and former JD (U) MLAs who had deserted the LJP in the past, contesting on HAM’s ticket. Even Upendra Kushwaha too protested the BJP’s decision to announce its first list of 43 candidates on September 15, a day after the NDA seat-sharing was decided, on grounds that talks were still on about the distribution of seats among the NDA partners.

In 2010, the JD(U) as BJP’s partner had won an impressive 115 of the 141 seats that it had contested. In the process, it had cornered 22.61 percent votes. The RJD had then won only 22 of the 168 seats that it had contested, and the Congress, only four of the all 243 seats that it had contested.

Things have changed dramatically since then as the Mahagathbandhan fields 73 new faces who are mostly youth. (RJD and JD(U) have fielded 30 new faces each, while the Congress, 13 new faces. The Congress has also given tickets to six turncoats from other parties).

Yet in this battle of the backwards, what sounds apocryphal is that then the BJP – perceptibly an upper caste party – had done exceedingly well in the backward belt by winning 18 SC seats and one ST seat. It was second only to the JD(U), which had won 19 SC reserved seats and one ST seat. The only remaining SC seat was then won by the RJD!

Little surprise, therefore, that in this classic battle of the backwards, the upper castes are the new untouchables. But with backwards at helm, can Bihar return to the old glory of the Mauryan period? It is a rather wistful thinking as of now!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of

I am a journalist, educationist and filmmaker with over twenty years of experience in the media industry. I have worked in different capacities in all formats (print, television and web) in prestigious media organizations in India and abroad. As a journalist I have covered social issues, natural calamities, successive state assembly as well as parliament elections since 1989, government offices, Indian political parties, state legislative assemblies as well as Indian Parliament.