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Bihar: Ruling BJP Candidate List Shows Party Continues to Rely on Upper Castes

In the party's list of 17 candidates for Lok Sabha 10 belong to upper castes, which is nearly 60% of its total candidates.

File Photo: PTI

Patna: For Bihar's ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), the upper castes matter more than others. This is clear as the saffron party has played a calculated caste card in selecting candidates for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

In the party's official list of 17 candidates, 10 belong to the upper castes, which is nearly 60% of its total candidates.

BJP has been contesting 17 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in the state and its allies, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United is contesting 16 seats, Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) five seats and one seat each by HAM of former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and RLM of former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha.

While BJP might be displaying its love for OBCs (other backward classes) and projecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an OBC leader, the fact is that the party leadership is still banking on the upper caste arithmetic in the state.

A senior BJP leader, belonging to the Bhumihar community, powerful landed upper castes, 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 given more importance to upper castes in its list of candidates. Our party understands that it enjoy overwhelming support of upper castes. The party is dominated by upper caste leaders, whose faces played major role in winning polls", he added.

The BJP leader further claimed that his party had successfully sent a political message by giving majority tickets to upper caste candidates. "BJP has made it loud and clear that it has more faith in upper castes than others", he said.

According to BJP's list of candidates, five  belong to the Rajput caste, followed by two for the Bhumihar caste, wo Brahmins and one candidate from the Kayastha community.

The party has renominated most of its upper caste MPs except Ashwani Kumar Choubey, who is a Union Minister. Choubey is an incumbent MP from Buxar Lok Sabha seat and has been replaced by Mithilesh Tiwari, a young party MLA.

What has surprised poll-watchers is that BJP has not changed its old faces, contrary to reports that new faces will replace them. The party has renominated Union ministers R K Singh from Ara, Griraj Singh from Begusarai and former Union ministers Rajeev Pratap Rudy from Saran, Ravi Shankar Prasad from Patna Sahib and Radha Mohan Singh from East Champaran.

In the caste-ridden politics of the state, since the early 1990s, 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 say it is well-established that upper castes have been overwhelmingly backing BJP in post-Mandal politics in the state.

Ironically, the population of upper castes has come down in the state after the 2011 census. As per last year Bihar Caste survey report, the population of upper castes, locally known as savarnas, has come down 15.52%, including 2.86% Bhumihar, 3.66% Brahmin,3.45% Rajput and 0.60% Kayasth. The remaining 4.8% are upper castes among Muslims, including Syed, Sheikh, Pathan.

According to the Bihar caste survey, there are 215 castes in Bihar and total population of Bihar is 13.7 crore, that includes 36% Extreme Backward Classes (EBCs,) 27% Other Backward Classes (OBCs),( OBCs and EBCs together account for 63%), 19% SCs (Dalits) and 1.68% STs (Adivasis).

BJP has given ticket to four OBCs, including three belonging to the Yadav caste and one from the Vaishyas. Besides tickets have also been given to two members of the EBCs and only one seat to a Dalit.

Expectedly, the party has not given any ticket to Muslims that has disappointed Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, former Union Minister, and well known Muslim face of BJP.

As per the report,s Chief Minister Kumar’s caste, Kurmi’s, population is 2.87% and his main ally RJD chief Lalu ’s caste, Yadav, is 14.26%, one of the highest among all the castes.

BJP state president Samrat Kushwaha’s caste Koeri or Kushwaha (OBC) population is 4.21%.

The caste survey report revealed that the total Hindu population is 81.9%, followed by 17.7% Muslims, 0.05% Christians,0.01% Sikh,0.08% Buddhists,0.0096% Jains and the remaining from other religions.

"This is nothing new. The BJP has been trying to make a dent in the social support base of the ruling Mahagathbandhan led by Lalu Prasad, Congress, and Left parties. This was made in public when a BJP leader pointed out that the party was worried about consolidating backward castes given an aggressive Lalu Prasad.The BJP had failed in its attempt to make a dent in Lalu'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 a CM candidate and appointed him as Union minister, but that hardly made any difference", said a political watcher.

Lalu Prasad is still considered an undisputed Yadav leader, who has got overwhelming support from the community in consecutive elections.

BJP's major ally, JD-U, has given three of 16 tickets to upper caste candidates. It has mainly given tickets to OBCs and EBCs.

BJP's other ally LJP (Ram Vilas) is likely to give one of its five tickets to an upper caste candidate. The party is yet to officially announce its candidate list.

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