The filing of nominations for Phase 1 of the Bihar elections, which will be held on 28 October, closed last week. Notifications for Phase 2 have also been issued. Poll fever is gripping Bihar. Allegations and counter allegations are flying in the air. JD(U)’s “Nitish sabke hain” is being countered by RJD’s “Aane waali hai Tejashwi sarkaar’’.
In Bihar Politics, Caste is Cast In Stone
Upper castes account for 15 percent, Yadavs 14 percent, Muslims 17 percent, SCs 16 percent, Non Yadav OBCs (NYOBC) 36 percent, STs 1 percent, and Others 2 percent of the population. Kurmis 4 percent (Nitish comes from this community) and Koeris / Kushwahas 8 percent are covered under NYOBCs. NYOBC is a term which is mostly used in Uttar Pradesh politics, however.
In Bihar, ‘Most Backward Caste’ or ‘Extremely Backward Caste’ (MBC / EBC) is a category which is frequently mentioned. It is essentially NYOBC-less Koeris, Kurmis and Kushwahas.
Similarly, the SC category in the state is divided into Dalits and Mahadalits, in a similar manner to Jatavs and Non-Jatavs in UP – for the sake of analysis.
Shifting Of Dalit Allegiance
MBCs / EBCs (24 percent), Dalits (6 percent) and Mahadalits (10 percent) account for 40 percent of the state's population. Mahadalits are capable of influencing the outcome along with Dalits in not only the 38 seats reserved for the SC category, but also approximately 60 other seats, in total around 100 seats, 40 percent of the house strength.
Nitish created the Mahadalit category in 2009 to create a vote bank which was earlier with Lalu during 1990-2000 and then had drifted to Paswan’s LJP.
Nitish set up a commission for the welfare of certain Dalit castes that are socially and educationally more backward than others. Initially 18/22 sub-castes of Dalits were included in the Mahadalit category leaving out Dhobi, Chamar, Pasi and Paswans. Later everybody was included under the Mahdalit category leaving only Paswans under the Dalit category.
This led to the shifting of allegiances of Dalits. Mahadalits moved to the Nitish camp while Dalits remained with Paswan.
There are 7 districts (around 40 seats) where the Mahadalit population is higher than 10 percent (average population in the state) and this is where they could play an important role. These districts are Gaya (19 percent), Nawada (17.5 percent), Jehanabad (17.3 percent), Kaimur (14.8 percent), Aurangabad (12.3 percent), Madhepura (10.6 percent) and Jamui (11.2 percent).
Dalits voted in large numbers (44 percent) in favour of the BJP-led NDA in the 1999 LS polls to install Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM.
This vote share steadily declined to 18 percent by the 2005 state polls when Paswan emerged as the champion of this community in Bihar.
Will LJP Draw A Large Share Of Dalit Votes? Or Will Nitish’s ‘Mahadalit’ Vote Bank Ruin LJP’s Chances?
After the installation of the NDA (BJP+JDU) government in Bihar and creation of the Mahadalit category by Nitish, this vote share increased to 31 percent in the 2010 state assembly polls. In the 2014 Lok Sabha, BJP got 42 percent of Dalits and Mahadalits’ votes, in a triangular contest.
Lalu got 39 percent Dalit votes in 1999, which increased to 42 percent in the 2004 LS polls (in alliance with Paswan). This declined to 20 percent when Paswan fought with the Left Front and not RJD in the 2005 state polls. In 2010, it recovered to 29 percent when Paswan again joined the Lalu alliance.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Lalu’s party got only 10 percent of Dalits’ and Mahadalits’ votes. JDU got 20 percent of the community votes.
In the 2015 state elections, Nitish joined hands with Lalu, Mahagathbandhan bagged 19 percent of Dalit and 25 percent of Mahadalit votes. NDA on the other hand received 54 percent support from Dalits and 30 percent from Mahadalits.
In 2019 general elections, Nitish contested along with BJP, NDA received 63 percent and UPA 18 percent Dalit and Mahadalit votes. With Paswan in the NDA, and Nitish the creator of the Mahadalit category also back in NDA, the entire SC vote bank has largely been with BJP+.
However, Chirag Paswan’s rebellion and the fact that LJP is contesting against JD(U) has brought a twist to the tale. LJP is likely to corner a large portion of Dalit votes.
The creation of the Mahadalit category has dented the vote share of the LJP. The party recorded 11.1 percent vote share in 2005 (contesting alone) which fell to 6.7 percent in 2010 (in alliance with RJD) which further fell to 5.0 percent in 2015 (in alliance with BJP).
Chirag’s decision to go solo is also an attempt to protect its core vote block of Dalits and enhance the LJP’s support base amongst Mahadalits.
Will Hathras & Sonbhadra Rape Cases Affect BJP’s Dalit & Mahadalit Votes?
There are more Mahadalit voters than Dalits. When JDU parted with NDA in 2015, BJP and allies suffered massive losses in seats reserved for SCs; RJD and Congress gained at their expense thanks to Nitish.
The Times Now-VMR survey shows weakening of the NDA support base in these elections. It predicts 41 percent SC support for NDA, and 42 percent for MGB. This was before LJP left NDA.
The Sonbhadra and Hathras incidents could damage BJP’s support among Dalits and Mahadalits.
While Manjhi has made a ghar wapsi to NDA, he has not lived up to his claim of being the leader of Mahadalits.
After coming to power, Nitish also focussed his efforts to cement his support amongst the Non Yadav OBCs. Due to the excessive ‘Yadav-isation’ of RJD, backward classes moved away from Lalu’s party in 2005.
Nitish cultivated a new breed of caste politics, famously referred to as Annexure-I politics.
He created a new category of most/extremely backward castes which were mentioned in Annexure-I of the MungeriLal Commission implemented by Karpoori Thakur in 1978.
The category includes scores of sub-castes like Kanu, Halwai, Karamakar, Lohar, Nishad, Sahanis etc. Nitish also created schemes which target both MBCs and Mahadalits.
With the majority of Kurmis, Koeris, Kushwahas already with JDU, the creation of MBC / EBC further strengthened his hold over the state.
BJP has also been enjoying the support of OBCs thanks to Modi being prime minister. This has become a lethal combination which is impossible to beat.
Bihar Elections: Who Will MBCs, Dalits & Mahadalits Support This Time?
53 percent MBCs voted for BJP+ in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, 18 percent for JDU (contesting alone) and 10 percent for RJD+. 60 percent MBCs voted for NDA in 2019 Lok Sabha polls, RJD+ could garner only 13 percent.
MBCs, along with the upper castes, strongly influence around 100 seats in these districts: Valmiki Nagar, Siwan, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga, Jhanjharpur, Supaul, Kishanganj, Madhepura, Banka, Nalanda, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Karakat, Gopalganj, Munger, Patliputra and Purnia.
It predicts 48 percent OBC support for NDA and 36 percent for MGB. This was before LJP left NDA and RLSP left MGB.
Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) has left MGB and joined NDA where it is contesting on 11 seats. Mukesh claims to be the leader of the Nishads who comprise 6-8 percent of the state's population.
With Chirag out of NDA, LJP could shave off 5-6 percent of the vote share from JD(U) candidates. Tejashwi hopes RLSP – which has formed a Third Front – will also take away a chunk of MBC votes from NDA candidates.
In these elections, the MBCs, Dalits and Mahadalits could play the role of kingmaker. Their support would decide the fate of both NDA and MGB and that of LJP and RLSP. To win, the Mahagathbandhan needs to make a dent in these two anchor voting segments of the NDA.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)