Which Caste Holds Key to Nitish’s Return as CM? Here’s the Data

Given Bihar’s history of voting out of caste loyalties, irrespective of alliances, Nitish may be at an advantage.

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Brahmin or Yadav, Kurmi or Koeri, Mahadalits or Muslim, when it comes to the Bihar elections, the biggest factor that has always dominated its politics, is caste.
It might not be an overstatement to say that most of Bihar's politicians are a product of caste politics.

Be it Lalu Prasad from the Yadav community, Nitish Kumar from Kurmi community, the Paswan father-son duo from the Dusadh Dalit community or the BJP's privileged caste base – each party or leader enjoys a kind of loyalty of its supporters and voter base, no matter who they ally with.

But, this time, with Lalu in jail, Nitish being the face of the NDA and the BJP playing the second fiddle to the JD(U), how will these caste dynamics decide which side wins?

There are several factors to be looked at before one can analyse that.

Why Hasn’t Bihar Given a Single Party Majority?

The answer to this question lies in the distribution of voters in Bihar's population. Bihar is one of the many states which, over the years, has hardly had a single party majority. Why? Because no leader or party has managed to transcend their community-based vote banks.

Take a look at this data:

Which Caste Holds Key to Nitish’s Return as CM? Here’s the Data

Unlike many states, there isn’t one caste whose votes dominate the ballots. The privileged castes, or the upper castes as they are commonly called, like Brahmins, Bhumihars, Rajputs and Kayasthas comprise approximately 17.2 percent voters and traditionally vote for the BJP.

The Yadavs are 14.4 percent and the Muslims 14.7 percent, both voters have strongly supported the RJD. The Dalit community comprises 14.2 percent of the state's voters, which traditionally gets distributed between the JD(U), HAM, LJP and CPI-ML.

But, amongst Dalits, there are the Passi or Dusadh Dalits who have supported the LJP. The Kurmis and Koeris, both OBC castes, form over 11 percent of the voters. They traditionally vote for the JD(U).

Which Caste Holds Key to Nitish’s Return as CM? Here’s the Data
You can clearly see that almost all communities form a substantial chunk of Bihar’s voters, making it almost impossible for any party to get a majority in the 243-seat Assembly on its own.

Who Voted for Whom in 2015?

To come to the dynamics of the 2020 caste factor, you first need to see the community-based voting pattern from 2015.

In the 2015 elections, the tables were different.

  • The Mahagathbandhan comprised RJD, JD(U), Congress and VIP
  • The NDA comprised BJP, LJP, RLSP, and HAM
  • The Left parties AIMIM and BSP, all fought solo
Which Caste Holds Key to Nitish’s Return as CM? Here’s the Data
(Graphic: The Quint)

Here's the 2015 Lokniti-CSDS vote share survey of different castes and communities for the two sides that had registered the MGB's victory:

Which Caste Holds Key to Nitish’s Return as CM? Here’s the Data

While Yadavs, Kurmis, and Muslims voted for the MGB, the upper castes, other OBCs and Dusadh Dalits voted for the NDA. The Koeris and the Mahadalits were fairly distributed between the two sides.

Which Caste Holds Key to Nitish’s Return as CM? Here’s the Data
(Graphic: The Quint)

What Changes in 2020?

The alliances have changed this time:

  • The Mahagathbandhan now consists of RJD + Congress + Left Parties
  • The NDA comprises JD(U) + BJP + HAM + VIP
  • The BSP + AIMIM + RLSP have formed a 'third front'
Which Caste Holds Key to Nitish’s Return as CM? Here’s the Data
(Graphic: The Quint)

Considering the new alliances, here’s how each community is expected to vote this time:

  • Upper Castes: These votes may largely remain with the BJP. But, due to the discontent against Nitish, some might move towards the Mahagathbandhan or the LJP - Advantage NDA
  • Yadavs: Through the 'parivaarvaad' angle, the NDA has managed to dent the image of the Lalu family, so some voter base might shift from the MGB to the NDA, but again, not substantially - Advantage Mahagathbandhan
  • Kurmis: This is Nitish Kumar's community. Irrespective of whom he allies with, Kurmis have been Nitish's loyal voter base for almost three decades. So, if 71 percent of the community voted for Nitish Kumar in 2015, a majority of that chunk is expected to shift to the NDA this time - Advantage NDA
  • Koeris: A traditional JD(U) vote bank, its breakaway party RLSP led by Upendra Kushwaha could make some dent into it. Some could also shift to the MGB due to anti-incumbency - Even Split
  • Dusadh Dalits - Now, this is going to be peculiar. The Paswans and the LJP are out of the NDA equation this time and are going solo. But Chirag Paswan is playing a two-sided game. On one hand, he says, “You will see PM Modi if you rip my chest off”, and on the other, he is expecting to get sympathy votes from LJP's loyal voter base after Ram Vilas Paswan's recent demise. So, there's a chance that the community may vote for the LJP in seats it is contesting but for the Mahagathbandhan or the NDA in other seats - Advantage LJP
  • Muslims: Muslims have traditionally been an RJD voter base, but they could partly shift to the AIMIM in the Seemanchal region. Again, it will not be much of a worry for the Mahagathbandhan - Advantage Mahagathbandhan and AIMIM
  • Mahadalit: The Mahadalit and Extremely Backward Caste voters may hold the key in this election. They have been a carefully cultivated support base of Kumar as he made them separate categories. But, will he be able to retain his base?

But, Three X-Factors Might Trump the Caste Factor

Considering these observations, if the people of Bihar vote this time yet again purely on the basis of caste loyalties vis-a-vis party loyalties as they have been doing for decades, there may be an advantage for the NDA, as the BJP's upper-caste base, Nitish Kumar's Kurmi and EBC base, with some HAM's Mahadalit votes, may be a little ahead of the MGB's Muslim and Yadav dominated base. But there are three X-Factors.

  • First is the LJP – how much will it damage the JD(U), and will it transfer votes to the BJP in the latter's seats?
  • But there's a bigger factor that may trump the caste factor this time – it is the issue of jobs and unemployment that has irked the youth or Bihar. Will the youth vote, based on jobs, cut through caste lines?
  • Then there's the larger anti-incumbency against Kumar. As the campaign has progressed, the popularity gap between Nitish and Tejashwi has kept narrowing.

The question is – Has Tejashwi covered enough ground to turn the tables?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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