By Dheeraj Kumar*
Patna: The Bharatiya Janata Party has a difficult task cut out in Bihar before 2019 Lok Sabha election as it has to navigate through the choppy waters of development and caste politics.
The curious issues of ‘Special Status’ and PM’s ‘Mega Package’
In 2015 Bihar assembly election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a mega package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for Bihar, trying to give an edge to his party in the fiercely contested election. The NDA had miserably lost the election to grand alliance despite Modi`s best attempt to weave a dream of fast track growth for the state. Since then, a lot of water has flown under the bridge as the state continues to be handicapped by growth deficit syndrome.
The Prime Minister’s promise of the mega package and its whereabouts too is now fast emerging as a hot debating point in the wake of the ensuing Lok Sabha elections. Bihar BJP president and Member of Parliament from Ujiarpur, Nityanand Rai, while talking to Jagrit Bihar, asserted Modi`s special package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore to Bihar has accelerated the pace of growth in the state. Endorsing his claim, Senior JD (U) leader and spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan Prasad said that Prime Minister Modi`s special package was being implemented in the right earnest and expressed confidence that the JD (U)`s demand for special status to Bihar should be met and the 15th Finance Commission`s terms of reference should be changed for the purpose.
However, the Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal has pooh poohed such claims that the package was already sanctioned and released for implementing schemes in various sectors till last year itself. RJD spokespersonMrityunjay Tiwari said that that both BJP and JD (U) were “be-fooling” the people of Bihar on this count. He said that Bihar was neither accorded special status category nor the state achieved special financial package “despite the state being run by so called ‘double engine’ government”.
But both the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partner JD(U) dismiss the twin issue of mega package and special status for Bihar as “non issues”. They seem confident that their development plank would clinch the issue for them. Rai said the Prime Minister had started paying special attention to growth of Bihar soon after the formation of NDA government in the Centre in 2014 and the growth agenda had “brought smiles on faces of all people cutting across castes, creeds and religions”. He said his party would enter into the electoral fray in 2019 on the development plank as its growth agenda.
Unarguably, Chief Minister and JD (U) president Nitish Kumar`s special thrust on development has transformed some sectors particularly road construction and energy remarkably well. From this special package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore too, Rs. 54,700 crore was being spent on total 82 various schemes of roads and bridges in the state. But given the emerging caste-based political equations as well as fissures within the NDA, could the development plank alone guarantee victory to the NDA in Bihar in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections? As for the BJP, it has already decided to contest equal number of seats in Bihar. BJP president Amit Shah has claimed all four allies of the BJP in the state which are part of NDA , are “in agreement”. But indeed its allies are bargaining hard for seats.
The intriguing case of Upendra Kushwaha
Notwithstanding the fact that BJP has now a strong ally in JD (U) but still it has to recast its vote politics particularly when another ally, union minister Upendra Kushwaha led Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) could change its tack, an apprehension getting stronger after Kushwaha`s outburst against Nitish over the latter`s alleged ‘neech’ remark for him.
Responding to Kushwaha`s criticism of Nitish for the remark, Bihar BJP president Nityanad Rai asserted that chief minister had never used the word ‘neech’ for Kushwaha but on the other hand he only told the TV anchor not to bring down the level of discussion during the media programme.
“NDA is completely intact in Bihar and there is no need for any worry,” he remarked. (See Nityanand Rai’s interview).
Kushwaha belongs to Koeri caste, which forms about six percent of Bihar`s population and if he really shifts his loyalty, most possibly to grand alliance, BJP will have to dent into the vote bank of other parties.
Faced by such a hard reality, BJP has no other option but to keep its traditional vote bank intact but also to add other social groups to its fold for broadening its support base.
The Upper Caste factor
Bihar`s upper castes, constituting 13 percent of its population remain crucial for BJP but even members of these castes had aggressively protested against the party leaders during their visits to various pockets of the state. They even clashed with the police while venting their ire against Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
It would still be hazardous to guess how much it would cause harm to BJP in the election but it must have sounded an alarming bell for the party.
Congress has already started making attempts to woo upper castes by giving important posts to them in the party`s organisation.
BJP had received a shot in the arm when LJP supremo and union minister Ram Vilas Paswan demanded 15 per cent quota for “poor upper castes, triggering a debate over the issue.
Yet another ally, JD (U) strongly holds the view that reservation facility could not be extended to upper castes as there is no such a provision in the constitution, a view even being held by its arch-rival RJD.
Until an amendment is made in the constitution for the purpose, it would not be possible, JD (U) general secretary (Organisation) RCP Singh had remarked sometime back.
It is another matter, senior JD (U) leader and state industry minister Jai Kumar Singh belonging to Rajput, an influential upper caste had also demanded reservation for the poor from upper castes.
The BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election had sought to catch the imagination of OBCs and EBCs by making reference to the caste of Narendra Modi but it is uncertain how much would it work in the 2019 election when the performance of Modi government would also be put to test.
It is still fresh in memory of many people how Modi had grabbed Priyanka Gandhi`s ‘neech rajniti’ remark by taking it as a casteist slur accusing her of attacking him because he belonged to a lower caste.
The BJP is also embroiled in another difficult situation following the departure of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manhi led Hindustani Awam Morcha, floated by him ahead of 2015 state assembly election.
Manjhi, an influential Dalit leader commands a good influence over his caste members (Mushars) and a large chunk of people arrested under new prohibition law in the state belong to this caste only.
*The writer is a Patna based senior journalist