Bihar BJP Depends on Caste Politics More Than Modi Ahead of 2024 Elections
Patna: Sensing the decreasing popularity graph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Bihar unit of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be banking on the caste arithmetic in the state.
Beyond Modi, caste matters for the BJP's politics. Its caste card was revealed when the party constituted its new state executive on Wednesday under state president Rakesh Kumar, alias Samrat Chaudhary, an OBC leader belonging to the influential Koeri community. Appointed in March this year, Chaudhary is the BJP's first non-Yadav state president and had switched sides from the JD-U earlier. The Kurmi-Koeri caste combination constitutes the largest non-Yadav vote share of over 6% among the OBCs in Bihar, as per reports.
The newly constituted 38-member state executive (12 vice president, five general secretaries, 12 state secretaries, one party headquarter in-charge, two deputy in-charge, one treasurer, one office secretary and two deputy office secretaries) is dominated by the upper caste -- the party's traditional support base, followed by the OBCs, EBCs, and Dalits, Through this, the BJP is trying to make a dent in the social support base of the ruling Mahagathbandhan, which comprises the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) led by Nitish Kumar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Lalu Prasad and Tejashwi Yadav, Congress, and the Left parties.
Of 38 members of the BJP state executive, 17 belong to the upper castes, including six Brahmins, five Bhumihars, five Rajputs, and one Kayasth.
As usual, the party has not appointed any Muslim to its new team.
A BJP leader told NewsClick on the condition of anonymity that this reflects the party's confidence in supporting its traditional base of upper castes, which remains intact in Bihar. "The party has sent a message by appointing 50% state executive members from upper castes that it has more faith than others," he said.
The BJP leader pointed out that the party has been worrying about consolidating backward castes given an aggressive RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is also the de facto chief of JD-U.
Both Lalu Prasad and Nitish are the main faces of the Mahagathbandan.
The BJP also played a selective caste card in the case of OBCs. The party has appointed only one member each from Yadav and Kurmi communities, both powerful OBC castes in the state.
Lalu Prasad is still considered an undisputed leader of his caste Yadav, who overwhelmingly support him in consecutive elections. Nitish, who belongs to an agrarian OBC caste (Kurmi) himself, enjoys full support from his community as well.
According to political observers in Bihar, the BJP had failed in its attempt to make a dent in Lalu Prasad's caste votes despite trying time and again. The saffron party promoted Nityanand Rai, who belongs to the Yadav caste, to state-level politics, projected him as CM candidate and appointed him as Union minister, but that hardly made any difference.
"After Lalu and Kumar, both from powerful agrarian backward castes -- Yadav and Kurmi -- joined hands and formed the government last August (2022), the BJP is in a dilemma about facing their strong combined political force," a political observer Satya Narain Madan told NewsClick.
But the BJP has given more importance to other OBCs as it appointed four members from the Vaishya and three members from the Koeri community.
Similarly, the BJP has appointed representatives from EBCs and Dalits in its state executive to woo them.
"BJP's caste card is widely seen as an attempt to woo Bihar's upper castes and Koeri of OBCs, as Vaishyas are its traditional supporters," RJD leader Ejaj Ahmad said.
Nearly five months after Chaudhary was appointed the Bihar party chief by the blessings of powerful BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, he formed his new team to face the ruling Mahagathbabdan in next year's Lok Sabha elections by posing full faith in the upper castes and his own caste community.
Chaudhary is currently a BJP MLC and leader of the party in the Legislative Council. Choudhary has started wearing a saffron turban and saffron gamcha, supposedly to display his loyalty to the party as he joined the BJP in 2019 after resigning from the JD-U.
In the caste-ridden politics of the state, since the early 90s, the BJP has been substantially relying on the upper caste vote bank and has emerged as a significant party in Bihar that claims to safeguard their interests.
Political watchers said it is well-established that upper castes have been overwhelmingly backing BJP in post-Mandal politics in the state.
The BJP and the JD-U, which ended their alliance last year, are set to contest the election without each other's support next year, unlike the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Interestingly, the BJP's top leadership, including PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, are reportedly concerned about contesting the upcoming elections alone in Bihar.
This is because the party is left with three small regional parties as allies -- the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Union Minister Pasupati Kumar Paras, which has no MLAs in the state Assembly and is considered a spent force; Other is Chirag Paswan's LJP (Ramvilas), former Union minister Upendar Kushwaha's RLJD, and former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi's HAM.
It is worth noting that though BJP has succeeded in bringing these small parties into its alliance, they are not known to have a broader social support base on the ground.
The BJP, still reeling from the significant setback delivered by Nitish Kumar last year, has seen Amit Shah make four to five visits to Bihar as part of the party's 'Mission 2024' campaign for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Shah boldly declared the party's intention to secure victory in all 40 state seats, a claim that seems far from achievable in present circumstances.
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