Lalu ‘out of sync’ with new Bihar

RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav  

“Lalu Prasad had given backward castes a voice and self-respect, but his own caste’s dominance gave him a bad name,” said an ageing Manoranjan Chaurasia, taking a break from a game of cards in a field in his village in Khagaria district.

Youngsters of his caste aren’t this charitable and display impatience with Mr. Prasad’s politics. “We need industry. I have stayed in Gujarat and Maharashtra. People look down upon Bihar as we don’t have industry here,” Prabhash Chaurasia said, disagreeing with the elder village resident. He said he supported the BJP.

The > political graph of Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad is falling as aspirations change, caste politics becomes nuanced and people charge the RJD with corruption and poor governance.

Mr. Prasad said days back that the present contest was between forward and backward castes. BJP ally and Mahadalit leader of the Musahar caste Jitan Ram Manjhi promptly disagreed.

The statement reflected Bihar politics of the 1990s, which seems to have changed now.

His conviction on corruption charges and image of poor governance apart, Mr. Prasad’s decline also stems from a gradual change in backward caste politics in Bihar. The first change was non-Yadavs seeking an autonomous space within OBC politics, which was symbolised by Mr. Kumar allying with the BJP — then seen as an upper caste party — to take on Mr. Prasad in 1994. The alliance defeated the RJD in 2005, and the BJP accepted Mr. Kumar as NDA’s leader in Bihar.

The scenario has changed further now. OBCs are no longer a bloc, and backward caste politics displays fragmentation even as individual backward castes seek welfare schemes and affirmative action. They are open to aligning with the BJP though many of them have fond memories of Mr. Kumar’s rule.

“Narendra Modi and Sushil Modi being from backward castes, OBCs and EBCs are increasingly open to allying with the BJP,” JNU academic Badri Narayan, an expert on caste, told The Hindu. He pointed to internal differentiation between backward castes. Sajjan Kumar Singh, a JNU doctoral student of politics who has surveyed Bihar for a month, said, “Each backward caste is looking at its own interest. There isn’t a bloc any longer; there are many individual castes.”

This affords the BJP a good opportunity to reach out to small, individual castes. This reporter’s visits to villages of OBCs and EBCs revealed interesting trends.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had sought to carve out a coherent EBC block as Chief Minister. But these castes aren’t acting as a group. Many have fond memories of Mr. Kumar’s rule but do not share the same sentiment for the RJD.

With an overarching backward caste politics no longer the glue, many backward castes in Yadav regions are uneasy with Yadav dominance, observers say. A Congress leader said he feared this would give the BJP a hidden advantage, as Yadavs outnumbered the BJP-supporting dominant castes, the Bhumihars and Rajputs.

The same may be true for Scheduled Castes in regions where Yadavs have a strong presence. Musahars of Barkhaban village in Gaya are with the NDA. They work in fields owned by Yadavs and the smirk on their faces is unmistakable when they say the landowners vote for Mr. Prasad.

The grand alliance still commands a Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi vote bank.

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Printable version | May 18, 2021 2:48:39 PM |

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