In Raghopur, Muslims-Yadavs-Nitish Can Blunt ‘Jungle Raj’ Attack
In banana-rich Raghopur, Muslims, Yadavs and Nitish are a potent weapon to blunt the ‘Jungle Raj’ attack
It has been long believed that in Bihar if you are born poor you may die rich, but your caste group is fixed.
This was considered almost a truism in a state which has been the crucible of the most pernicious and debilitating caste politics in India. But as Bihar, which has already seen two phases of a staggered assembly poll, hurtles towards the third, the fluidity of caste equations and the manner in which caste alliances are constructed and then re-calibrated with seeming ease becomes at once apparent in Raghopur constituency. Here, the maverick Lalu Prasad’s younger son Tejaswi, is locked in an electoral contest with the NDA’s nominee Satish Kumar Yadav, a former Janata Dal(United) legislator who switched loyalty to the BJP overnight a couple of months ago.
On Saturday, one of Lalu Prasad’s two “anmol ratanas”, Tejaswi, a college dropout who took to cricket but failed to make it to the Bihar Ranji cricket team, had taken a break from the gruelling campaign.
Khana, Khazana aur Janana, a Private Affair
Barely 30 kms from Patna, the road to Raghopur, not far from the banks of the Ganges, is silk-smooth. But before hitting the bustling Bidupur market, I chose to take a left turn into a narrow metalled road, not in the best of shapes, to Dawoodnagar-Chakgadoh, a village of about 7,000 voters of all caste and religious persuasions, though primarily dominated by Yadavs and Muslims with some scattered settlements of Brahmins, Rajputs and Mahadalits. It did not take me long to find a cacophonous gathering of a few village elders animatedly engaged in a discussion over the fate of Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party.
“Yeh to samajwadiyon ka gadh hai” (this is the bastion of those who espouse the cause of social justice), said middle-aged Arvind Kumar Sinha, who took pride to identify himself as a Yadav. “The roads are good, our village has power and there are schools where girls are outshining boys,” Sinha said.
Soon enough began energetic khaini-crushing followed by a round of sugar-syrupy tea as the conversation drifted towards “Modi ji” and the Dadri lynching. The death in UP’s Dadri has been a talking point in Dawoodnagar-Chakgadoh where Lalbabu Singh Yadav’s witty one-liner that the Muslim and Hindu community’s “khana, khazana aur janana” (food, wealth and woman) were matters of the private realm, summed up the rustic yet liberal perspective of the RJD-JD(U)‘s ideological stance in the face of the BJP-led NDA’s campaign that has brought the traditionally potent Muslim-Yadav factor back in full play this time around.
“Yahan MY (Muslim-Yadav) aur Bhai (a reference to Nitish Kumar as Lalu’s brother) kaam karega,” Lalbabu said cheerfully, indicating that the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance was working successfully on the ground, a sign that the Mahagathbandhan’s ticket distribution, a function of its larger electoral strategy, was done carefully.
“There is a lot of economic and social inter-dependence between Hindus and Muslims in our village, so much so that Hindus contribute subscriptions for Moharram,” Sinha said, citing the example of how men from both the communities toil together in the fertile Gangetic plain where bananas are grown in abundance.
This time in Bihar, each political party has constructed the electorate as a collection of caste or religious bloc and sought to expand its vote share by targeting certain categories while ignoring others. But the identification of the “Other” that proved highly successful for the BJP in western UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is conspicuously absent in Bihar.
Here, BJP banks on Development not Hindu Identity
While the BJP has regulated the mention of its own Hindu identity to not even a perceptible whisper, it has politically mobilised its traditional base of caste Hindus. In thickly populated Checher village, which has the usual distribution of all caste categories, Rajkumar Singh, a Rajput, regales his listeners, who also comprise Yadavs, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s achievements at the Centre while being disparaging about the Nitish Kumar government’s schemes that have sought to empower women and girls. But Dilip Kumar Singh, a jeans-clad, strapping Yadav from Majlispur, though amused by Rajkumar’s cracking wit, insists that “karm kiya to Nitish ne kiya.”
In Mathura hamlet in the interiors of Checher, Ram Kumar, a chamar Mahadalit who has taken to masonry, is more circumspect. His brick hovel, crowded with 30 family members, is surrounded on all sides by Yadavs. Clearly uncomfortable with eye-contact, Ram Kumar, however, claims that “there has been some work in the last 17 months,” a reference to the “work” done since the BJP came to power at the Centre. It is also a hint where his loyalties lie -- so far with former Mahadalit Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hinsutan Awam Morcha that has allied with the BJP. But he said might vote for the winning horse, depending on which way the wind blows a day before Raghopur goes to the polls on October 28.
In a state already heavily mobilised on caste lines and where upper and lower castes have increasingly developed competing interests, even if they are not always served by the parties who claim to champion them, finding the right strategy to mobilise, especially when issues of development at the micro-level are ignored or eclipsed by the rhetoric of the political elites, places a huge demand on political creativity.
In Raghopur, where a Yadav is pitted against another caste brethren, the RJD-JD(U) combine’s creativity in blunting the BJP’s attack on Lalu’s so-called “jungle raj” has been ingenious. The “unfair” attack is negated by responding with the logic of communal harmony and social justice and a more literal interpretation that an RJD worker, Raj Kishore, outlined amusingly cleverly: “A jungle of wild animals has a fairer system.”
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