Silence of the EBCs keeps Nitish worried
The vote bank
- Extremely Backward Castes form about 32% of Bihar\'s electorate
- They have traditionally voted for the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar
- In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, a lot of EBCs voted for Narendra Modi and the BJP
- Upper casts, Dalits and Mahadalits are expected to vote for the NDA in huge numbers
- Lalu Yadav\'s RJD has the support of Yadavs and Muslims, who make up 22% of the electorate
- Nitish has the support of Kurmis, whose numbers are not very large. This is why he needs EBC votes
- The RSS and the BJP are evoking the common Hindu heritage to dent the EBC vote bank
- PM Modi\'s charisma is another factor which could sway the EBCs
The upper-caste and OBC voters in Bihar are quite vocal about their choices for the upcoming assembly elections. But as far as the Extremely Backward Castes are concerned, there's no indication of their support yet. This has left Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his JD(U) worried.
Nitish's greatest need
Nitish himself belongs to the Kurmi caste, part of the OBCs, and is assured of getting the votes from this community. But the Kurmis do not have large enough numbers.
This is precisely why Nitish needs a consolidated EBC vote to come back to power for the third successive term.
Nitish has proactively worked for the EBCs in the last few years, and this is something that the EBCs also recognise. They have previously shown their faith in Nitish, but his friends-turned-foes in the BJP are now trying to wrest this vote away from the JD(U) and its allies, Lalu Yadav's RJD and the Congress.
The BJP and the RSS know that if they succeed in dividing the 32% EBC vote in the state, it could be the key to their victory.
The caste equations
Like any election in the heartland, the Bihar assembly election, too, is expected to be dominated by the caste factor. Therefore, each party's strategy is similar - keep its own traditional caste brackets consolidated and try to dent the others' vote banks.
The BJP has, among its NDA allies, the likes of Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party and Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party. Jitan Ram Manjhi, the expelled former JD(U) chief minister, has formed the Hindustan Awam Morcha and offered unconditional support to the BJP.
These Dalit and Mahadalit leaders of the state are expected to bring a share of these castes' votes to the NDA.
The upper castes are consolidated and stand firmly behind the BJP and, along with Dalits and Mahadalits, form the base strength of the NDA in the state.
The smartest move the BJP has made so far is not to announce the name of the NDA's CM candidate. This keeps many leaders hopeful, and as a result, their caste bases can also dream of getting plum roles if the NDA forms the government.
On the other side, Lalu's RJD has vociferous support from Yadavs and Muslims, who combine to form 22% of the total votes in the state. As mentioned before, the JD(U) has Kurmi votes, so the total vote potentially in the bank for this alliance is about 30%.
The importance of EBCs
It is clear from the electoral mathematics above that the EBC vote is crucial for the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance.
"The EBC vote is very important for Nitish. He has a good image among them and is very hopeful about their support. This is why the BJP is trying hard to dent the EBC votes and bag as much as possible. The BJP is working hard and it seems to have succeeded in penetrating this section to some extent," says Arvind Mohan, a senior journalist and observer of Bihar politics.
JD(U) MP Ali Anwar adds: "Nitish Kumar is popular among the EBCs because he has done a lot for them. He gave them 20% reservation in town area and ward elections. He has MPs and ministers from the community. They will stand for him."NDA's base strength lies in upper caste, Dalit & Mahadalit votes. It wants to dent Nitish's EBC vote bank
The development work carried out in the villages of these communities keeps them more or less satisfied with Nitish. But the challenge the CM faces today is to keep the EBCs consolidated and in his favour, in light of the RSS-BJP's aggressive strategy.
The Hindu pride card
The RSS and the BJP have organised a series of caste-based meetings with the 110 castes within the EBCs.
Their emphasis - Hindu pride and the connections these castes have with mythological history and Hindu gods.
More than 200 such programmes have been conducted in recent times. The RSS and BJP cadres are going from village to village and sensing the mood, in a bid to convince them to vote for the NDA.
"We know that the BJP is trying hard to get support among the EBCs. They are desperate. But they will not get their support. Nitish has performed, while others have just given speeches to try and appease the voters," Ali Anwar says.
The Modi factor
In the 2014 elections, the EBC vote was divided. Riding the Modi wave, the EBCs voted for the BJP.
One thing that helped the BJP was a surreptitious message that its cadres delivered to the populace - 'keep Nitish as your CM, but vote for Modi as PM'.
This time, too, the BJP is hopeful that Modi's charisma would help it make significant gains.
On the other hand, the challenge in front of Nitish is to snap the EBCs out of this 'illusion' and keep them consolidated.
While this polticial fight looks set to go on till the last vote is counted, the EBC community is quiet, and probably undecided.
The community is waiting for the list of candidates to be declared; their mood and mandate will probably be shaped by the kind of representation they are offered, and the tone of the campaign.
As of now, the cards are still to be played, and it remains anyone's game.