Caste, however, remains vital in deciding electoral outcome

“Not a single Muslim will vote for the NDA”

“The NDA will go to the voters with confidence”

Patna: Development, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar at its core, has emerged as the most potent election issue in Bihar this time. Not that caste undercurrents are absent , but development has become a top electoral agenda.

“We cannot ignore the caste factor. But it has ceased to be the decisive factor,” feels Nitish Kumar, who has launched many development schemes and programmes for social welfare like health and education.

“The NDA will go to the voters with confidence on the strength of the good work done by Nitish Kumar. We need no other agenda to seek support,” says Shivanand Tiwari, Rajya Sabha member and party spokesman. Despite the State’s economic growth over the past few years, 43 per cent of its population is below the poverty line making development the State’s collective poll agenda and this is reflected in the utterances of Nitish’s arch rivals RJD chief Lalu Prasad and LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan.

Both are busy telling people about the projects they brought to the State in spite of the State’s efforts to throw a spanner in their works. The turnaround in the Railways, often credited to him, is common to all Mr. Prasad’s speeches.

“It is good that Mr. Prasad, who solely depended on his social engineering to win elections, has now realised the importance of development,” says Mr. Kumar. These elections would be a referendum of sorts on the development initiatives of the incumbent government as well as a do or die battle for Mr. Prasad.

Caste, however, remains vital in deciding the electoral outcome. Apparently, Nitish Kumar government’s decision to grant 20 per cent reservation in the Panchayati raj institutions to the extremely backwards among the OBC was taken bearing in mind their numerical strength. With his secularist image, Mr. Kumar had succeeded in making inroads in Mr. Prasad’s Muslim vote base in the last Assembly polls.

However, the Muslims are caught on the horns of a dilemma on whether to vote for the NDA this time as hardliner L.K. Advani has been projected as their candidate for Prime Minister. “Not a single Muslim will vote for the NDA as they have great apprehensions and justifiably so ,” says three-time Bihar chief minister Jagannath Mishra, who recently quit JD(U) accusing Mr. Kumar of having neglected Brahmins in ticket distribution.

There is little doubt about polarisation of Yadav votes in favour of Mr. Prasad. There will also be polarisation of Paswan votes in favour of newly launched RJD-LJP-SP ‘Fourth-front’ due to Ram Vilas Paswan.

But with Mayawati fielding candidates in all 40 seats, the Dalits, who are known to be traditionally opposed to Paswans, will veer towards her party and many may even vote for the NDA to defeat ‘fourth front’ candidates, political observers maintain.

The Congress’ traditional Brahmin vote has shifted to the BJP and the NDA, while other so-called upper castes are left with little choice but to throw their weight behind the State’s ruling alliance as most of them are opposed to RJD.— PTI