Ashok Singh is a rice mill owner in Bihar’s Rohtas district and an upper caste (Rajput). He has all the time backed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but is having a look to switch his vote this time.
His choice is Rajendra Singh, an old member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who missing the 2015 election on a BJP ticket to Jai Kumar Singh, a senior leader of the Janata Dal (United) that was once with the Opposition Grand Alliance at the time. Jai Kumar Singh was once later made minister of science and technology.
Rajendra Singh’s margin of defeat in the Dinara meeting segment was once thin, 2,691 votes, in a seat dominated by Yadav, Rajput, Kushwaha and Brahmins.
This time, the Dinara seat has gone to the JD (U), who has fielded sitting MLA Jai Kumar Singh. Rajendra Singh could also be in the fray – on a ticket by the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) – and is the usage of his personal ties to the native population and his 37 years of experience with the Sangh to split the upper caste vote, which is approximately sizeable of the 2.73 lakh-strong native electorate.
“Rajendra Singh missing, but he still remained here in our midst. Dinara is a place from where rice was once exported up to Bangladesh once, but all that has changed. Here we wish native things to be set correct. Despite being a minister, Jai Kumar Singh did not help the place or people in any way. A trusted face could also be important,” said Ashok Singh.
At Rajendra Singh’s public meetings, slogans can confuse the uninitiated. Chants praisingNarendra Modi, Amit Shah, together with Ram Vilas Paswan, rent the air. “We realize Rajendra Singh. We don’t realize any party,” said Mantu Pathak, who runs a grocery shop close Dinara block office.
Satyendra Shah, a high school teacher, said that he would be voting for Rajendra Singh, and not as a result of the LJP ticket. “We realize him as an RSS man and he’s popular. He’ll have direct fight with the RJD candidate,” he added.The Grand Alliance has fielded Vijay Mandal from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)
Barely 35 kms absent, another BJP insurgent and four-term MLA,Rameshwar Chourasia, is contesting on an LJP ticket from Sasaram, but he’s also relying more on his past ties with upper-castes and drawing big crowds. Sasaram’s constituency is dominated by Koeei, Muslim, Rajput and Yadav. The BJP has traditionally enjoyed the strengthen of Kowei and Rajputs and the RJD that of Yadav and Muslim. But the presence of LJP can divide the upper-caste vote, say native residents.
“If the crowd will translate into vote and how things will shape up for other parties is something that is tough to guess, for division in upper case vote may end up benefitting the GA [Grand Alliance] candidate. With RJD fielding a candidate from theVaishya community, a traditional vote bank of the BJP, it can also hurt the NDA,” said Dadan Pandey, a farmer from Nauhatta in Sasaram.
Members of the Brahmin, Rajput, Bhumihar and Vaishya castes have traditionally backed the BJP. These communities make up around 15%-16% of the state’s population, but regularly play a decisive role in building opinion – what in native parlance is named ‘hawa’ – as a result of their oversized native influence, presence in key institutions and economic and social dominance that has tipped over into violence against marginalised communities prior to now.
When the BJP and JD(U) came together in 2010, this upper-caste backing came at the side of the coalition of extremely backward classes and Mahadalits, two segments nurtured by chief minister Nitish Kumar, to form a steady social base for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
But this time, there is palpable anger among upper-castes against Nitish Kumar as a result of pervasive unemployment and fatigue after 15 years of rule.
“This time upper caste is the balancing factor and subsequently, all parties have fielded them. This can be a fact that upper caste isn’t happy with Nitish Kumar, but at the same time it also does not need to leave him because of lack of credible choice. A lot will depend on upper caste turnout in Covid times. Whether they remain detached, it’s going to also alter the outcome,” said DM Diwakar, former director of AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies.
The BJP has fielded the most upper-caste candidates, with more than half of the 110 seats going to dominant communities — 50 from the upper caste, including 21 Rajputs and 15 Bhumihars, and 15 from the Vaishya community. Its ally JD-U has focused on extremely backward classes and Mahadalits.
JD-U genera secretary and Bihar minister Sanjay Jha said that the upper caste would not leave the JD-U or the NDA after having seen the Nitish government’s work and the horror tales of the RJD regime. “Upper caste voters may have greater expectations from Nitish Kumar, but it’s going to not take the risk of backing Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, for it knows how far Bihar has travelled and from where. Having expectations is all the time good and election is the time to ventilate it, but this doesn’t intent anger. What Nitish government has done is before the people to see and compare,” he added.
In contrast, RJD has provided 13 tickets to upper castes. In the Congress, 32 of the 70 seats allotted to the party have been provided to upper-caste candidates. The Congress was the party of choice for upper-castes – and the Dalits — until a rainbow coalition of backward castes and minorities dislodged it from power in 1990.
Congress MLC Premchandra Mishra said that the upper caste had been fooled by the NDA and they were angry with the Nitish government for several reasons. “After 15 years, Nitish Kumar cannot and must not say what he’s going to do; relatively he show the outline card. Drawing comparison with the past will not convince the upper caste, who have seen the nature of governance in Bihar,” he added.
In addition, the LJP has fielded almost 35% upper-castes among its 137 candidates – most of them against the JD(U).
“LJP has provided tickets to potential winners. LJP chief Chirag Paswan has categorically said that he does not see the caste of candidates while deciding the seats, but only the potential, image and work,” said LJP spokesman Vikas Mishra, who could also be a candidate from Harlakhi seat in Madhubani.
This competition for upper-caste votes, particularly in seats witnessing triangular contests, can alter the outcome, say experts. “A lot will depend on how they [upper-castes] behave, particularly on the seats JD(U) is contesting, for they may have triangular or multi-corner contests,” said Diwakar.
The NDA could also be banking on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP leaders say at a time Nitish Kumar is battling anti-incumbency, the PM can help shore up the alliance’s prospects in tricky contests.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi’srallies can change things on ground. He’s a man people still consider. Let’s see how much he is in a position to swing. For NDA, the hope rests on him, unlike before when Nitish Kumar was once himself capable of steering the NDA,” said Vijay Kumar, a professor from Nawada.