JD(U) is putting its efforts into a social engineering model comprising Mahadalits, EBCs, Muslims and Rajputs

When Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar marched through the streets of Patna in March, demanding special category status for the State, signs of his diminished political strength were visible. At the Gandhi Maidan, where he sat on a satyagraha to press the demand, the turnout was far from reassuring.

After the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal struck an alliance, the Janata Dal (United) has been trying to conceal its political isolation by presenting a national image of it as part of a “federal front.” In Bihar, the party has tied up with the Communist Party of India.

Bereft of a strong caste vote, the JD(U) is putting its efforts into a social engineering model comprising Mahadalits (poorer Dalits), extremely Backward Classes (EBCs), Muslims and Rajputs.

“And the Mahadalit vote is with the JD(U) en masse. It is not going to split because of the Narendra Modi factor,” says JD(U) Minister Shyam Rajak while conceding that nearly 90 per cent of Yadavs are with the RJD.

“The Mahadalits constitute about 13 per cent of Bihar’s electorate. Adding about 17 per cent of the EBCs [minus the Baniya community], a section of Muslim, Kurmi, Kushwaha and Rajput votes, the JD(U) can easily bank on 44 per cent of the total vote share in Bihar. The rest of the 56 per cent will be divided,” says Mr. Rajak.

While these figures look rosy for the JD(U), they may belie the sentiments of disgruntled voters. “Nobody in my area is happy with Mr. Kumar,” says Chandan Rajak, a Mahadalit student from Aurangabad district. “Mahadalit is just a category he created, but did nothing for its development. Mahadalit hamlets remain underdeveloped, lacking basic facilities. Many in my community feel ‘Modi uncle’ should be given a chance. There should be a change at the Centre,” he says.

“The EBCs may remain with the JD(U), but the Mahadalit vote will certainly be divided. Mr. Kumar set up the Mahadalit Vikas Mission, which is full of Bhumihar [upper] caste officials except one Mahadalit or two,” Rajeshwar, a Dalit activist from Aurangabad, says.

In the Aurangabad Lok Sabha constituency, the JD(U) has fielded Baghi Kumar Verma, a Kushwaha formerly with the RJD. In Karakat, the JD(U)’s sitting MP Mahabali Singh, a Kushwaha, has been re-nominated from the seat and is set to take on Upendra Kushwaha.

The JD(U)’s three prominent Muslim candidates — Ghulam Ghaus from Madhubani, Akhtarul Iman from Kishanganj and Abu Kaiser from Bhagalpur — are RJD rebels. Mr. Kumar’s split from the BJP did not earn him the expected results in the form of minority voters, who feel the united force of the RJD and Congress stands a better chance of defeating the BJP.

“If the Muslims were with Mr. Kumar, he would not have lost the Maharajganj by-election.

We cannot forget he was with the BJP for 17 years,” says Mohammad Wahid Alam from Patna.

The JD (U)’s crushing defeat in Maharajganj to the RJD was an early indication of Mr. Kumar’s problems. The JD (U), however, is firm in its calculation. “Though the Mahadalits and the EBCs are unhappy with us, they will finally vote for us.

These two communities will react against the Modi ‘wave.’ Plus, upper caste women do not vote in as large numbers as the women of these two weak categories do,” opines Mr. Shyam Rajak.