With assembly polls due in Bihar later this year, political parties have gone on an offensive to woo different caste and community groups in the state.
While the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U)-BJP government has made a bid for some new social engineering by attempting to carve out Mahadalits from among SCs and Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) from the OBCs, Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP are trying to bring Muslims, Dalits, OBCs and upper castes under one umbrella.
Congress, which had for the last over one decade played second fiddle to Lalu Prasad in Bihar, has this time decided to “go solo”, which is considered a long-term move to create a separate identity for the party once again. Congress had ruled the state till 1990 when Janta Dal came to power and Lalu Prasad became the Chief Minister.
Congress has propped an educated Muslim face by making Mehboob Ali Kaiser the new PCC President and also sought to appeal to the Dalits by making Mukul Wasnik, a Dalit leader, the AICC general secretary in-charge for Bihar.
There is talk in the party circles that Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, a prominent Dalit face, could be assigned a bigger responsibility in Bihar during the assembly election.
Ms. Kumar is the daughter of Former Deputy Prime Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram and hails from a Dalit community, which has a sizeable population in the state. Mr. Ram was an influential Dalit leader on the national scene.
Sources said Congress is aiming at regaining its traditional vote bank of upper castes, Dalits and Muslims, as the over 20 years of non-Congress rule in the state had mainly seen the emergence of leadership from the OBC community.
Interestingly, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, whose main vote base had consisted of OBCs, has recently asserted that he is “not against” upper castes and his political plank for this assembly election is to take everybody along.
LJP has maintained that its alliance with the RJD is intact. “Our alliance with RJD is rock solid and this alliance will come to power in the next assembly election,” Mr. Paswan told PTI. The election for Bihar assembly is likely to take place later this year as its term expires in October.
Mr. Prasad also holds the same view maintaining that the JD(U)-BJP could form a government after October 2005 re-election in the state because RJD and LJP failed to come together after the previous state polls in February 2005 threw a hung verdict.
“We are not against upper castes. We want to take everybody along. This time all sections will vote for us and we will form a government in Bihar,” Mr. Prasad told PTI.
The battle lines for the assembly polls were drawn in the last Lok Sabha elections itself when Congress fought it alone bagging two out of 40 seats. The RJD-LJP combine and the JD(U)-BJP were the other contenders in which the latter emerged as the clear winner.
Bihar observers say that it all boils down to alliances and the right candidate this time. While Kumar’s developmental plank has given him an edge, in a caste-polarised society right alliance is the key for power, a senior Congress leader said.