#BiharElections: Caste is cast in stone in Bihar Politics

Bihar state elections are due in Oct-Nov late this year. Nitish Kumar is fighting to keep his Chief Ministerial chair. He has been CM of the state for the past 10 years except for a brief period of 9 months when his protégé turned foe Jiten Manjhi was the CM.

Nitish was running a successful coalition with BJP in the state of Bihar since 2005 and was successful in decimating Lalu’s so called jungle raj. Lalu’s RJD was reduced to a mere 22 seats in 2010 assembly polls. His political fate was further sealed when he was convicted in the fodder scam in Oct. 2013 and handed a 5 year sentence. NDA (JDU+BJP) bagged 206 seats (85% of assembly strength) in 2010 state polls. While NDA got 39% vote share (JDU 22% + BJP 17%), RJD-LJP alliance managed 26% and Congress 8%.

All was going well till before the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, JDU in June 2013, pulled out of NDA after Narendra Modi was named the Election Campaign Chief of BJP. Some critics pointed out that Nitish nursed Prime Ministerial ambitions and hence pulled out sensing BJP would announce Modi as its PM candidate.
In the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections, lightning struck on JDU and Nitish’s calculated move proved to be a grave mistake. JDU bagged only 2 seats, down 20 seats from its 2009 performance. BJP led NDA bagged 31 / 40 seats. NDA (BJP + Paswan + Kushwaha) got a vote share of 39%, UPA (RJD + Congress + NCP) 30% and JDU 16%. The 15% vote share of upper castes belonging to BJP moved away from JDU which led to its downfall.

64% of people who voted for NDA said they were satisfied with development work of Nitish government. JDU was banking on them to sail it through. One of the champions himself of caste based politics having created 2 new caste categories – Most Backward Classes and Mahadalits – for electoral gains, he forgot that caste is cast in stone in Bihar politics. People vote on basis of caste first and then comes development. Additionally, the fact that it was national elections also impacted decision of voters happy with JDU work to vote for NDA.

BJP managed to craft a social coalition of upper castes, dalits, kushwahas and most backward classes accounting for 55% of state population. Lalu managed to hold onto his Muslim-Yadav vote bank accounting for 31% of population. Nitish managed to get small chunks of Koeri / Kurmi / Yadavs / MBCs and Dalits / Mahadalits. There was no caste group which voted overwhelmingly for Nitish and JDU, not even Kurmis to which caste Nitish belongs.
Caste Wise Break Up of Bihar and Polling Trend in Lok Sabha

Caste Particulars % Population Lok Sabha 2014 Polling Trend
Upper Caste  15.0  
Brahmins 5 78% upper caste voted for BJP+. 8% for JDU and 5% for RJD+.
Rajput 3
Bhumihar 6
Kyastha 1
Backward Caste 26.2
Kurmi 4 30% Kurmi & Koeri voted for JDU, 26% for BJP+ and 15% for RJD+.
Koeri 8
Yadav 14.2 64% Yadavs voted for RJD+, 19% for BJP+ and 12% for JDU.
Most Backward Caste 24 53% MBC voted for BJP+, 18% for JDU & 10% for RJD+.
Dalits 6 42% Dalits & Mahadalits voted for BJP+, 20% for JDU & 10% for RJD+.
Mahadalits 10
Muslims 16.5 64% Muslims voted for RJD+. 21% for JDU and 2% for BJP+.
Adivasis 1.3 NA
Others 1 NA
Total 100  (Source: National Election Studies 2014)

BJP bagged 39%, JDU 17% and RJD 30% vote share. The approximate caste wise vote share of these parties derived on basis of CSDS data, some adjustments and internal research is as follows. This is how BJP, JDU and RJD got their vote shares in Lok Sabha.

Composition of Voters of Various Parties

Caste BJP (%) JDU (%) RJD (%) Others (%)
Upper Caste 12 1 1 1
Kurmi / Koeri 4 4 3 1
Dalits / Mahadalits 7 3 2 5
Most Backward Class 13 3 2 5
Yadavs 3 2 9 0
Muslims 0 3 11 2
Others 0 0 2 0
Total 39 16 30 15

BJP (approx. 2/3rd voters are from Upper Caste & MBCs)


JDU (approx. 50% of voters are from Kurmi / Koeri, Muslims & upper castes)


RJD (approx. 2/3rd voters are from Muslim & Yadav communities)


Nitish had to take moral responsibility for this disaster and had to step down as CM for a brief period. Facing survival issues, Nitish had to make amends with his bete noire Lalu (against whom he had fought vociferously and won elections in 2005 and 2010) and come together along with Congress to stop the BJP juggernaut in Bihar. It was a win-win situation for both. Survival for Nitish and revival for Lalu. UPA + JDU vote share in Lok Sabha of 46% was higher than 39% vote share of NDA. Had Nitish, Lalu & Congress fought together Lok Sabha polls, and assuming all JDU votes transferred to RJD candidates and vice a versa, this alliance would have won 28 / 40 seats. Though, both leaders would agree – elections is not all about arithmetic, it’s about chemistry as well.

The first test of this alliance was state by polls held last year on 10 seats. Janata Parivar + Congress alliance won 6 / 10 seats. Earlier BJP held 6 / 10 seats. The coming together of Lalu – Nitish worked and they vowed to continue the alliance to stop BJP. However, in the MLC elections held recently, NDA won 13 / 24 seats. JDU earlier held 19 of these seats. So there has been a mixed bag of results for this alliance.

Despite initial differences, Lalu has agreed to project Nitish as Janata Parivar’s joint CM candidate. Infact, Lalu was not fighting for CM chair, all he wanted is an equitable distribution of seats. Though seat sharing talks have not been finalized JDU-RJD-Congress likely to fight on 100-100-40 or 105-105-30 seats.

I visited a village in South Bihar recently after 15 years. Things have changed. All round development is visible. Roads have been built in villages, electricity has reached houses, law and order situation has improved. Children go to schools in nearby towns and school buses ply to villages to pick and drop students.

The elections are a real test for Amit Shah and BJP cannot afford a loss after Delhi. A loss could give hope to opposition that united fight against Modi without split of votes is the only way out to survive. This could have larger national political ramifications and re-alignment of forces could take place in states like UP, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal etc. Voices of dissent could start in BJP. Reforms could take a back seat. A BJP win will crystallise Delhi loss as a one off. Modi-Shah Jodi will become stronger in BJP. The pro development agenda will continue and BJP confidence to take on opposition in Parliament on important bills will increase.

The elections are expected to be another cracker after Delhi with no clear winner from Day 1, though Nitish leads the charts / surveys for best CM candidate. Each seat will be fought hard and caste combinations on that seat plus choice of candidates will determine which party will win.

A villager belonging to upper caste sums up the caste dynamics,

“BJP has the upper hand in these elections due to tie up with Paswan, Kushwaha and Manjhi. It has the caste equations right in its favour. Forward caste could have voted for Nitish due to good development work. However, his tie up with Lalu means upper castes won’t vote for Nitish. Nitish can’t be CM anymore with 4% Kurmi vote bank.”

A lawyer from upper caste in a town in South Bihar however differs,

“BJP won’t have it easy like Lok Sabha. They don’t have any leader of Nitish stature. Infighting will hurt them most. People will also vote for 1.5 years of Modi rule at the center. Nothing has changed on the ground.”

He opines that RJD may get more seats than JDU and post polls issue of leadership will again crop up. NDA got 78% of upper caste votes in Lok Sabha as per CSDS. Their vote share in this segment has thus peaked. Nitish has announced sops for financially weaker sections of upper castes to dent into BJP vote. It remains to be seen whether this will work.

Nitish is a Kurmi leader. JDU bagged just 30% vote share from Kurmi and Koeri caste voters in Lok Sabha. Nitish will have to slog hard to retain this crucial vote bank. Only 18% of most backward classes voted for JDU & 10% for RJD in Lok Sabha despite Nitish being the architect of this caste segment. Increase in vote share from this segment is crucial for better performance in state polls.

64% of Yadavs voted for RJD + Congress in Lok Sabha. Their vote share also has likely peaked in this segment. 12% voted for JDU. Pappu Yadav has moved out of RJD and formed his own party. He may make some dent in RJD vote bank in North Bihar. Defeat of Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti in Lok Sabha by uncle Ram Kirpal Yadav shows Lalu does not enjoy the same clout among Yadavs anymore.

Only 30% of Mahadalits / Dalits voted for JDU and RJD in Lok Sabha. This despite the fact that Nitish created the mahadalit category. Entry of Jiten Manjhi in NDA could spoil Nitish efforts of increasing vote share from this segment.

64% of Muslims voted for RJD in Lok Sabha and 21% for JDU. Muslim votes are likely to consolidate in favour of Janata Parivar alliance. This is clearly the segment where Janata Parivar has a significant edge than NDA. This can only be neutralised if BJP asks it’s ally Paswan to give tickets to a number of Muslims. One Muslim candidate had won on LJP ticket in the Lok Sabha polls last year.

A most backward class farmer I spoke to said,

“Upper caste are very peeved that they have been out of power for the past 25 years. They can’t stand any more a backward CM. That’s why they are backing BJP and hope it would put up a forward caste CM after polls. This is also one of the reasons why BJP has not announced a CM candidate as backwards form a big chunk of their present votes.”

A farmer who did not wish to divulge his caste sums up the caste debate aptly,

“People in Bihar will vote on basis of caste. Caste is deep rooted in our system. If there are more than 1 candidates of the same caste, then people of that caste would vote based upon the influence / character / quality of candidate irrespective of his party.”

Others / smaller parties / independents got 15% vote share in Lok Sabha polls. Majority of this came from Muslims, Dalits / Mahadalits and MBCs. Out of this, Muslim vote share may consolidate towards RJD-JDU and Dalits / Mahadalits towards Manjhi (NDA).

Caste wise break up of population across various seats is not available. You do get Mahadalits and Muslim population district wise. Hence, getting the right caste combination on various seats is very important for both alliances. That is why Lalu and Nitish are protesting for release of census data. BJP here has an edge as it may be privy to this data and it could help a lot in formalising candidates for every seat.

While BJP will try to improve its vote share from Kurmi / Koeri / MBCs / Dalits / Mahadalits and Yadavs, JDU + RJD will try to increase vote share from upper castes / Kurmi / Koeri / MBCs and Muslims.

An interesting battle on the cards! The alliance which is able to create the best caste combination on each seat would win. Watch out for more updates on Bihar polls!

This article has been written exclusively for niticentral.com 


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