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An Analysis: How Big of a role does caste play in election.


If I go with the RJD, the upper castes won’t vote for me. If I go with the BJP, the Muslims won’t vote for me. So it is better to be independent and be good to everyone. I have to save my politics.” (A mukhiya candidate from sagarpur village of Madhubani District) Prashant Jha.
The strength of the total electorate in Bihar 2015 assembly election was 66826658 which include 35646870 male, 31177619 female and 2169 third gender. Though the electorate may be classified on the basis of caste, religion, class etc, caste consideration are of prime importance. The forward caste means Brahmins, Bhumihars, Rajputs and Kayastha.
Jaati na poocho sadhu ki, pooch leejiye gyan”, sang India’s saint-poet Kabir. (Do not judge a saint by his caste, imbibe his knowledge). However, the most-asked question in an Indian election is about the candidate’s caste. Political analysts ask it, poll strategists ask it, and the voters ask it. The caste-related issues frivolous to outsiders are debated seriously in TV shows and newspaper articles during an election season. Such weird identity-politics is not played out in any other democracy! Of course, politicians did not create the powerful Hindu caste system. There are four main castes – Brahman (priests and intellectuals), Kshatriya (warriors and kings), Vaishya (traders) and Shudras (servants including the untouchables). They form a hierarchical order that covers hundreds of sub-castes within a caste. Every caste is credited with certain attributes such as valour or craftiness. The tradition of caste-based military regiments established by the British continue. The caste matters a great deal in Hindu rituals and ceremonies. Caste conflict is a regular feature of life in villages and cities. Many inter-caste marriages are destroyed by social sanctions. Some of these and at times even love affairs end in the crematorium.
India is going to witness a heightened political activity at the end of 2020. Mainly because the term of many state assemblies are going to expire.There will be Bihar Assembly Election 2020 on 28 October, 03 November, 07 November 2020, and results will be declare on 10th November 2020.West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, and Tamil Nadu state assemblies will also undergo re-election around April to May 2021.

For the time being, Bharatiya Janata Party is focussing its politics on the Bihar Election 2020. There is a popular saying in India’s politics, ‘Jaati Nahi jati’. Meaning that caste never goes out of the election in India. All the party has to do for a Bihar election is to fit perfectly in the caste arithmetic and have some top credible faces. Here we will analyze the caste composition of Bihar and how their votes make or break the Government of Bihar. For the sake of Bihar Election 2020, the analysis is from the point of NDA v/s Mahagathbandhan.
In an ideal social scenario, no one should vote in the name of caste. But nothing is ideal here. People say ‘Apna Aadmi Hai’ (our person) and fall in the trap. One should vote in the name of work done but sadly that is not how Bihar works. Now slowly people are looking at the credibility of the leader, whether it is Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has given more tickets to upper castes as well as other and extremely backward classes, the opposition is attempting a balancing act with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) fielding more Yadav candidates, and the Congress focusing on upper castes. The opposition mahagatbandhan is also appealing to smaller groups through caste leaders like Upendra Kushwaha, Jitan Ram Manjhi and Mukesh Sahani.
Around 56% population of Bihar belongs to other backward classes. Amongst them, 16% are Yadav OBC and the rest 40% are considered to be Non-Yadav OBC. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav, as the name suggests has a very loyal vote bank of the 16% Yadav OBCs of Bihar. Whereas the Non-Yadav votes are distributed between Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United), who are currently holding the Bihar Government
This time, the mahagatbandhan’s caste arithmetic looks strong on paper with the RJD confident of drawing support from Yadavs (16%), Manjhi from Musahars (3%), Upendra Kushwaha from Kushwahas (6%), Sahani from Nishads (6%) and Congress from a section of upper caste voters (17%), going by estimates. The NDA draws its support from the BJP’s chunk of upper caste (16%) and non-Yadav OBC voters, JD(U)’s Kurmi (4%) and EBC support and Lok Jan Shakti Party’s Paswan base (5%), which are also estimates.
As elections become more closely fought contests,caste consolidation will have to go beyond vote shares and convert into seats to yield electoral success. For instance, in the 2014 general election, the BJP had less than one third of the vote share (29.86%) but won more than two-thirds of the seats it contested (22 out of 30). On the other hand, the RJD won just four seats with a 20.46% vote share and the JD(U) just two seats with a 16.04% share. With such a keen focus on caste, voters feel the outcome of the general election will depend on which alliance is able to consolidate more on a seat-to-seat basis.The Non-Yadav OBC votes continue to prefer the BJP-JDU alliance since 2009 Lok Sabha Elections. In addition to this, the 2014 Lok Sabha Election was a bit special because many young voters rose above the caste politics and voted for Narendra Modi. It is quite likely that this group will remain loyal to the BJP-JDU alliance for the Bihar Assembly Election 2020 as well.
Upper castes account for 15% of the population of the entire Bihar. They include Brahmins, Bhumihars, Rajputs, and Kayasthas. It might be because of the Hindu ideology of BJP, but the upper castes actually pour their votes for Bharatiya Janata Party. Since 1984, these votes have shifted from Congress to BJP and continue to remain so. For the many past years, the upper caste of India had been completely neglected. Politics was much focussed around the OBC and SC/ST population. There was an attempt to create a social balance amongst all the caste, the balance shifted too much towards the other side and Upper Castes were completely sidelined. The ideologies of BJP have fascinated the upper caste of India and Bihar Election 2020 will witness a similar trend. However, we must understand that 16% of Muslim votes in Bihar heavily oppose BJP. Therefore this vote base of BJP can get neutralized in Bihar Election 2020. Bihar has about 16% Muslim population. Whereas Mahadalits+STs make up 15% of the overall population. Scheduled Tribes are only 1.3 percent. BJP does not have much support amongst these categories. However, Nitish Kumar’s JDU gets some support from Dalit and Mahadalit community. In the case of Muslims, the Indian National Congress has a traditional vote bank for Bihar Election 2020. The Muslim community is banking much on Congress because of its tough stand against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The Mahadalits and Dalits consist of 5% Dusadh, 3% Musahars, and others. Now that Manjhi has gone with Mahagathbandhan, 3% Musahar votes will go with that alliance. The other Dalit votes remain split between RJD, JDU, and LJP of Paswan. As per the voting pattern of all these caste communities, it is evident that the current NDA alliance works well for the BJP, JDU, and LJP. If we take a broader look at the above estimates. BJP has the support of Upper Castes which is 15%. JDU has the support of 26% EBCs and few Dalit voters. BJP and JDU collectively have the support of other Non-Yadav OBCs. While Paswan gets the votes of Dusadhs that are 5%. So approximately, the NDA alliance has 46% (or +1% Dalit) votes of the overall Bihar population. Based on the caste arithmetic, NDA stands at a very good place for Bihar Election 2020. For the Mahagathbandhan, Lalu Yadav’s RJD gets to score 16% Yadav votes. Congress will score 16% of Muslim votes. Ram Manjhi of HAM will get backed by 3% Musahar votes. RLSP will get 6% votes from Kushwahas. Some of the Dalit votes as 2%. Therefore approximately 43% Bihar population is expected to back the Mahagathbandhan alliance for the Bihar election 2020. The remaining 10% of voters of Bihar do not have a fixed affiliation with any party and their votes depend on multiple factors. NDA alliance can turn the remaining 10% voters in its favor by highlighting the welfare schemes, developmental work, Sushan Babu image of Nitish Kumar. Moreover, the 20 Lakh crore package announced by Modi Government is going to be significant for Bihar Assembly Election 2020.

The outcome of Bihar elections might be difficult to predict at the moment but one thing is ascertained and that is BJP is set to gain the most from AIMIM jumping in the fray.Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM is the only political party in India that exclusively represents the interests of Muslims on a national level. This might lead to a shift of the Muslim vote bank from Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), which will only help the BJP.Owaisi is known for his outspoken behaviour and outrageous comments, which will lead to further polarisation in the state. Though AIMIM is contesting  32 seats, the atmosphere of polarisation might benefit the BJP by giving the party Hindu votes throughout the state. ( Views are personal)

In Bihar, much has changed since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The JDU that had left the NDA just ahead of the 2014 LS elections has returned to it after having a brief alliance with the RJD and Congress for the assembly polls in 2015. Some of the small regional parties have also switched sides. These have brought up new challenges for parties. While Kumar’s return to the BJP-led NDA means a possible combination of upper castes and MBCs in his favour, the RJD, which is fighting alongside the Congres and small regional parties, is making desperate attempts to consolidate OBC voters and woo SCs as a part of its strategy to go beyond its intact MY (Muslim-Yadav) equation.
The absence of Lalu Prasad, who is in jail, is a factor affecting the grand alliance’s campaign. His son, Tejashwi, who regularly visits his father in a Ranchi jail, nevertheless has emerged as RJD’s star campaigner and has now total command over the party. He has been quite deft so far in handling the affairs with allies Congress, ex-CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), the Vikashsheel Insan Party of Mukesh Shahni and former union minister Upendra Kushwaha. Manjhi, Kushwaha and Shahni have the capacity to emerge as vote catchers for the alliance in 2019
A common factor between the two camps, meanwhile, is that both face contradictions from inside. While the RJD’s attempt to bring the quota issue into focus creates trouble for ally Congress, JDU may have problems with BJP’s attempt to revive Ayodhya.
The grand alliance is also facing problems in giving a final shape to the seat-sharing arrangement. The NDA, however, has already announced its deal to share constituencies among the allies: BJP, JDU and LJP.

All parties draw up poll strategy on the basis of the constituency’s caste profile. Messages in the election speeches are tailored to suit the dominant caste, ideological coherence is sacrificed. If a candidate belongs to caste A, his rival belonging to caste B fields dummy candidates of caste A to divide the opponent’s votes.Incendiary rumours enhance inter-caste and intra-caste animosities. False statements fuel sub-caste jealousy. Political rivalry is promoted among the caste groups. The dominant caste in the village tries to impose its political preference on the depressed section by issuing threats. If the election results show that the dominant caste leader’s fiat was ignored, the defiant voters are subjected to violence. Extensive opinion polls, by indicating the voting preference of a particular caste group, make it easy to take revenge.
Newspapers give the caste-wise break-up of the candidates fielded and the candidates who win the elections. Caste matters in the selection of the candidates and shapes the content of the poll campaign speeches. When the government is formed, the media highlights the caste composition of the cabinet. It wasn’t so in the newly independent India when democracy was less mature.
Earlier, some secular political leaders tried to reduce the role of caste in politics. Congress leader Indira Gandhi once ran a successful poll campaign with the slogan: Na jaat pe, na paat pe, muhar lagegi haath pe (We shall ignore the candidate’s caste and sub-caste and vote for the Congress symbol of hand.)
Today no party ignores the caste factor that influences the voting behaviour and creates vote banks. Every party devises it poll strategy by considering castes and sub-castes. Paradoxically, even the BJP, while committed to uniting Hindus, plays caste-based politics in a big way. BJP minister has no hesitation in saying that since Congress President Rahul Gandhi belongs to an upper caste, his party cannot bear to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is not from an upper caste. BJP’s spokesman Sambit Patra publicly asked Rahul Gandhi to declare his Gotra (his specific clan within the caste). This question usually comes up when a matrimonial alliance is discussed!
Take the example of Madhepura, a Lok Sabha seat in the state, which has not had a non-Yadav parliamentarian since 1967. This time too, the trend is likely to continue because the top three contenders are all Yadavs —sitting MP Pappu Yadav, Sharad Yadav contesting on an RJD ticket, and Dinesh Chandra Yadav of BJP.Even as caste is important, there is a growing sentiment against this cycle. The only way to do this, say voters, is to gauge politicians on the basis of their credibility.With two popular leaders on its side—Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Nitish Kumar—NDA gains an edge if one focuses on credibility. Both Modi and Kumar have created a constituency of voters across caste lines, particularly among the young.


Various Assembly and Lok Sabha elections indicate that the votes of the lower OBC remained divided between the RJD and the JD (U)-BJP alliance till the 2005 elections. It is only after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections that we witness a clear shift in preference. They voted for the JD (U)-BJP alliance in bigger numbers than in any elections in the last few decades. This shift got further consolidated during the
2010 assembly elections and 2014 Lok Sabha elections.Since 1996 till 2010, when the JD (U) and the BJP had been in alliance, one wonders if the lower OBC voted for the JD (U) or for the BJP. Findings from the 2014 survey data do indicate a massive shift towards the BJP when the party had no alliance with JD (U) – a clear indication of the party being more popular among this category of voters. There are also indications that the BJP benefitted from its alliance with the JD (U) at least with regard to the lower OBC voters as large numbers of them preferred Nitish Kumar-led JD (U) more than the BJP. However, one can‘t deny the fact that the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the shift was due to the personal popularity of NarendraModi. One cannot say for sure whether things stand where they were.


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