The Congress senses an op­por­tu­nity to wrest up­per caste votes from the BJP

India Today - - STATES - By Amitabh Sri­vas­tava

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

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