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Dalit Vote To Swing Elections In Bihar As Modi Bats, Nitish Runs And Lalu Drops The Ball!

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By Jai Prakash Ojha for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

The upper castes are firmly with NDA. The minorities are looking towards the Grand Alliance. OBCs are too heterogeneous a group to be taken for guaranteed and in all likelihood, their votes are going to be divided. It is in this flux that Dalits are holding the key to power.

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In a desperate bid to extricate himself from the beef controversy into which Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu was enmeshed, he played the Dalit card. The indomitable leader blamed PM Modi for being anti-Dalit and in order to buttress his stand, he cited from a book supposedly written by Modi in 2007. He castigated RSS for its attempts to reinforce the brahminical social order and working against the interests of the Dalits and the backwards. For many observers of the state polity, this is hardly surprising as Lalu has no vision to offer to the electorate and wants it to remain frozen in Mandal era. It remains to be seen whether Dalits are going to be swayed by his rhetoric or remain indifferent towards the RJD-JDU-Congress combo.

Dalit Disenchantment With Mandal

Very few people will disagree with me when I say that it was Lalu who gave voice to the marginalized and the disempowered but then, he forgot to realize the true democratizing potential of Mandal to usher in a social revolution, with the state plunging into lawlessness and deficit in governance – development front. Unlike the other Mandal icon Mulayam who had to deal with a potent Dalit challenge in UP, Lalu enjoyed complete support of both the backwards and the Dalits. The strong socialist traditions of the state had created solidarity on class lines that brought the backwards and the Dalits together. It was immune to the strong Dalit movement that had surfaced in UP that manifested itself in the form of DS4 and BAMCEF (All India Backward And Minorities Communities Employees Federation) before BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) was born. Disenchantment with Congress, the growth of social justice politics and lack of alternatives found Dalits siding with the Mandal forces in the state.

Soon contradictions emerged and the rural hinterlands of the state saw conflicts between the upper layers of OBCs, the MBCs and the Dalits. Some of the most horrifying massacres that took place in Naxal infested Bihar between the lower caste landless and the private militia of landlords happened under the reign of Lalu. The rural power structure remained more or less the same; the only difference was that the caste identity of the feudal elements had changed. The dominant upper OBCs like the Yadavs or the Kurmis were more brutal in their confrontation with the Dalits/MBCs than even the upper castes. Apart from symbolism and shrill rhetoric, the ruling party never undertook land reforms that would have benefitted Dalits or invested in their educational or economic empowerment. The fault lines between Dalits and OBCs had appeared towards the end of Lalu era.

Nitish, no doubt, gained the support of the Dalits by his clever social engineering moves and creation of Mahadalit category. The Dalits voted for Nitish in the 2010 Assembly and 2009 Assembly Elections in good measure but a major group among them, the Paswans stayed away, instead flocked to the Ram Vilas Paswan-led LJP (Lok Janshakti Party). In the 2014 LS elections despite BJP managing significant inroads into Dalit constituency with NDA getting 42 percent vote share, JDU managed a solid 30 plus. RJD mustered only 10 percent.

The Manjhi Factor And The Changed Equations

But the scenario has now undergone a sea change since the BJP government came to power at the centre. The underlying solidarity that proponents of social justice had built among the OBCs, MBCs and the Dalits is showing signs of strain. The MBCs and the Dalits are drifting towards the BJP, as was evident in 2014 LS elections in both UP and Bihar. Nitish contemplated a masterstroke by installing Manjhi, a Mahadalit as the CM to showcase his love for the Dalits and then, in conjugation with Lalu, he tried to revive the Mandal forces. But things turned upside down the moment Manjhi started cultivating Dalit constituency by his pro-Dalit vocabulary, provocative speeches and a slew of measures aimed at Dalit empowerment. The Dalits became assertive and politically conscious as Manjhi, simply, refused to follow the JDU script. His unceremonious removal from the post of CM did not go down well with the Mahadalit community which held Nitish responsible for the humiliation meted out to a Mahadalit CM. For the Mandal proponents, Dalits are to be treated as vote bank rather than a shareholder in the spoils of power. The Mandalites have never been great fans of Ambedkar; rather Lohia ideology, read socialist cum casteist principle guides them. The Mandal love for Dalits was a mere eyewash.

Today, both the Dalit parties of the state – Ram Vilas Paswan led LJP and Manjhi led HAM (Hindustani Awam Morcha)– are part of BJP led NDA as social equations continue to change. The Paswans voted for NDA in a big way in 2014 LS, thanks to LJP and the community to which Manjhi belongs may also pitch in for NDA. The Ravidasis had voted for BSP in good numbers in 2010 Assembly Elections and since BSP has displayed signs of diminishing, in all probability, they may go for NDA in Dalit solidarity. Together, these three castes constitute about 70 percentages of the Dalits who comprise 16 percent of the state population. There are altogether 23 castes within Dalits. Dalit polity is showing signs of assertiveness in the state after being lost for two decades within the glare of Mandal. It’s inching closer towards Hindutva shows the reconfiguration of social equations with the upper castes, the Dalits and the MBCs coming together to take on Mandal riding on minority support. Don’t forget how Mayawati colluded with Hindutva to come to power thrice in UP despite the presence of Mulayam.

It’s highly unlikely Lalu’s histrionics are going to have any impact on the Dalits as no one seems to be buying the Grand Alliance logic that reservation is going to be scrapped. Whatever, the Modi baiters may say, no one can deny the fact that Modi has outgrown in stature or credibility than Nitish or Lalu. His hectic campaigning in Bihar has made it into a sort of presidential form of election where the Nitish-Lalu duo is pitted against him. The Dalits are hardly going to believe Lalu thanks to the track record he has. Mandal may bear Dalit fury in this Bihar elections 2015.

‘Bihar Elections With Ojha’ is part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s special coverage of the Bihar 2015 elections.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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