BIHAR: CONGRESS, RJD MAKE COMMON CAUSE
The Congress senses an opportunity to wrest upper caste votes from the BJP
Finally getting a chance to send a candidate to the Rajya Sabha from Bihar after 16 long years, the Congress settled on Akhilesh Singh, an upper caste Bhumihar leader. A month on, in April, the party has now nominated Prem Chandra Mishra, a Brahmin, to the state legislative council. Is this upper caste preference part of a larger electoral gameplan?
A senior party leader admits the move is “curious”. “Both Singh and Mishra won only because they were backed by the RJD, on advice from Lalu Prasad Yadav,” he says. But the choices weren’t incidental. With Lalu ‘guaranteeing’ the Muslim, Yadav and a large chunk of OBC votes, the Congress is back to wooing the Bihari upper castes, who now constitute an electorally significant votebank.
Unlike in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, upper castes make up only 11 to 12 per cent of the population in Bihar. But their importance has grown in the wake of the division of the lower caste and OBC votes between the RJD, LJP, JD(U), RLSP and others.
Once Congress voters, the upper castes turned to the BJP in the late 1990s. They remained with the saffron party in Bihar until the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, firmly spurning attempts by the RJD and JD(U) to win them back. The RJD, in 2000, promised 5 per cent reservation for the upper castes and the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) government even formed an upper caste commission. But loyalties remained with the BJP.
The first chink in the saffron armour appeared in the 2015 assembly polls when the Congress won 27 seats
TWO TO TANGO Rahul Gandhi meets Lalu Yadav at AIIMS in New Delhi, April 30. The incarcerated RJD leader is in hospital to treat a kidney ailment