The curious case of Bihar's caste politics

bihar-polls BJP President Amit Shah with HAM chief Jitan Ram Manjhi and LJP President Ramvilas Paswan during a press conference regarding Bihar elections, in New Delhi | PTI

The soaring price of onions has always brought tears to politicians and political parties during elections. Onions are a definite component of the north Indian meal. The poor often have rotis, a pinch of salt and a few bits on onions in their thali, be it for lunch or dinner if they have the luxury of two meals. Onions are costly in the market now, but perhaps the poor have turned numb towards this reality.

As the Bihar assembly elections are unfolding, costly onions have surprisingly failed to moisten the eyes of politicians. But what has, is a staple ingredient of Indian elections—caste. That people are divided into vote banks is old stuff. Parties that are close to the soil have snatched away the weaker sections and minorities that used to go with the Congress till cries of Mandal and social justice became part of the poll jargon. The BJP used polarisation as a tool to bag Hindi votes, a large chunk of it, if not all. The very rooted regional parties and their netas became the beneficiaries of caste-based politics.

To keep themselves going in such a scenario, the bigger parties got into political alliances while retaining the leadership role—the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA. Bihar, however, tells a different story.

The society has been minced into such fine and complex caste-based divisions that caste groups have become scattered as vote banks and different regional parties are perceived to hold sway over different sub-castes! If Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party can influence the Dalit voters, Jitan Ram Manjhi claims his Hindustan Awam Morcha will attract the lower strata of Dalits—the 'Mahadalits' or Extremely Backward Class (EBC).

What does the BJP do to get the Dalit and Mahadalit votes? It takes in its fold the two warring leaders and their parties, with the hope of eventually getting Dalit and Mahadalit votes, even as Paswan hits a lonely road to say that the Constitution of India does not recognise the word 'Mahadalit'.

“It is exasperating...the level to which we have to come down to get those people on board,” confessed a party leader. The only consolation, he revealed, was that if the BJP gets a majority on its own, they will not have to be shedding tears over how to repeat this in future.

And, what does the Congress do? With four seats in the assembly that will give way to a new one on November 8, the party is not in a position to take any party with these votes under its wing. So, it has gone under the wings of Janata Dal (U) and its leader, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. He after all, coined the word 'mahadalit' and converted it into a vote bank.

It is all in the spirit of Mohammad going to the mountain.

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Topics : #Bihar | #politics

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