Asif Moazzam Jamai for MuslimMirror.com
Despite the fact that factors like industrial development, quality infrastructure, law and order and jobs for local youths have now become more important in elections, caste remains a dominating factor in Indian politics. It is said that in Bihar, people don’t cast their vote, rather vote their caste. There is no denying the fact that Nitish victory is attributed to a clever mix of development and caste issues as an election strategy.
Nitish’s silent Social Engineering
Nitish Kumar belongs to the kurmi caste which forms around 3.5 percent, and Yadavs form around 14% of the state’s population. Sensing his weak caste base, Nitish took on priority to create a loyal vote bank. He smartly divided and sub-divided OBCs and minorities into most backward and extremely backward categories. Giri, a Brahmin sub-caste, was moved into the OBC list. Bihar has over 25 lakh Giris, mainly in Chhapra, Siwan and Motihari.
The other OBC made an EBC is Rajbanshi, comprising a three lakh population that is concentrated largely in Purnea and areas bordering West Bengal. EBCs are a subgroup of OBCs and gain in the reservation to government jobs, 17 percent in a chunk of 27 per cent. Technically called OBC-II, this group is also entitled to higher scholarships for its students and reservation of seats in panchayats.
The Nitish government secured 50 per cent reservation to women in the Panchayati raj system and recruitment of primary teachers. 35 per cent posts of police constables and sub-inspectors have been reserved for women. Distribution of bicycles by ‘Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojna’ has connected lakhs of schoolgirls from remote areas to schools. In 2015, 59.5% women came out to vote, which was higher than the male turnout of 54.5%. This 4% rise in women’s votes was definitely result of Nitish Kumar’s various women-oriented programmes.
Muslim Vote pattern in Bihar
Muslim- Yadav combination formed the bedrock of 15 years rule of Lalu-Rabri regime. It is argued that Lalu Yadav had favored upper caste Muslims and backward caste Muslims i.e. the pasmanda, remained ignored. Nitish Kumar’s strategy included wooing the pasmanda. On 8 October 2005, seven pasmanda political parties issued a clarion call to defeat Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the state assembly elections. Slogans like ‘Vote hamara fatwa tumhara, nahi chalega’ (your dictate on our vote will not work) and ‘jo pasmanda ki baat karega, wahi Bihar pe raaj karega’ (those who concede the demand of Pasmanda will rule Bihar) became the order of the day.
A large chunk of pasmanda vote drifted away from RJD and voted for JDU, despite knowing the fact that the latter was an ally of NDA. Once in power, Nitish elevated Salim Parvez, a pasmanda leader, to the position of Bihar Legislative Council deputy chairman. Later, his cabinet approved the inclusion of a Muslim caste so far among OBCs, Kulhaiya, in the EBC list. The ‘Kulhaiya’ population is concentrated largely in Araria, Purnea, and Kishanganj. Nitish Kumar undoubtedly broke into Lalu might over Muslim votes, by tactfully taking away a major chunk of Pasmanda Muslims from him.
The carefully crafted social engineering of Nitish Kumar was threatened when Narendra Modi was declared to be the Prime ministerial candidate. His decision to part ways with NDA was also in the wake of his assiduously created Muslim votes, which he couldn’t afford to see going back en masse to RJD, eventually allowing Lalu Yadav to resurrect his MY alliance.
One fine morning, mafia turned politician and ex-MP Siwan, Md Shahabuddin released on bail, created ripples by calling Nitish Kumar ‘Chief Minister of circumstances’. The chief minister was extremely upset with RJD supremo Lalu Yadav’s silence over Shahabuddin repeated attack. The Nitish government took note of it and did play a role in the cancellation of his bail, and Shahabuddin was back to jail again. Before surrender, Shahabuddin slammed Chief Minister saying that his supporters will teach him a lesson. Following his surrender, protest marches were witnessed in many parts of Bihar and in few other states, blaming Nitish Kumar for cancellation of his bail. Anger among youths was recorded on streets and social media. Lalu kept mum with the speculation that this episode might enrage Muslims of Bihar against Nitish, and that he alone would be master of Muslim votes. Will Shahabuddin episode make Nitish lose anything? Iftikhar Ahmad, Delhi-based builder from Siwan says, ‘JDU had been a political ally of BJP for a long time. Muslims of Bihar don’t trust his credentials. His role in Shahabuddin’s case will make him lose Muslim votes. On the other hand, Dr. Mumtaz Naiyer, a senior postdoctoral scientist at Faculty of Medicine, University of Southampton, UK, who is actually from Kishanganj has a different view altogether. He says ‘Muslims of Bihar will continue to support Nitish Kumar as long as his welfare schemes and policies are inclusive. Shahabuddin’s impact on Muslim voters is localized. I am from Seemanchal and I don’t see any impact of Shahabuddin on Muslim voters of this region.’
Nitish support of demonetization and his political ambition
Nitish support of demonetization has two-tier significance. The first is connected to Bihar politics. Since Lalu’s party is a substantial power center behind the throne, there is growing clamour from his cronies for a bid to make Tejaswi chief minister. Nitish, with demonetization support, tried to cow down both, Lalu’s cronies and Shahabuddin’s supporters. The message for Lalu was clear. RJD and Congress together have 107 MLAs- 15 short of a majority, while JD(U) and BJP together have 128 MLAs — well over the majority mark. In the specific context of Bihar, both Lalu and Nitish know that it is Nitish who has an option. By the same token, Nitish reminded Shahabuddin’s supporters of the second coming of BJP in power, which Muslims can’t afford to see. The second significance of his support of demonetization has to do with his political ambition. He has reflected on this bold statement that he is a clean politician who is against corruption, and doesn’t endorse ill-gotten cash to be protected.
JD (U)’s plans are to contest UP polls and putting together an alliance of smaller parties. Kumar can project himself as the new face of Kurmis, the second largest backward caste group after Yadavs in UP. Yadavs are with SP but Kurmis have looked at non-SP alternatives like BJP and Congress earlier. A big Kurmi leader, therefore, can be an attractive option. Kumar’s strategists reckon that since UP’s winners never cross 30% vote share, JD(U) can have a big role if it gets around 9% of votes. We will have to wait and watch how parties’ alliances are going to take place in Uttar Pradesh.
Nitish is trying to build a secular coalition and be its leader – an unannounced prime ministerial challenger to Narendra Modi in 2019. He has coined the phrase ‘Sangh Mukt and Nasha Mukt Bharat’, to realize his prime ministerial ambitions. Kumar is the only prominent Opposition figure running a quasi-campaign for the job of an Opposition prime ministerial candidate.
Nitish Kumar’s prohibition of liquor is one of the very few pan-Indian planks that allow a regional satrap to transcend the boundaries of the state. Women reservation and liquor ban have established him as a much sought-after leader of women cutting across caste and border. His clarion call to unearth benami property is seen tailored towards his ultimate ambition. Prime Minister Modi has recently announced to make a law against it, but the credit of this advocacy will go to Nitish.
The author is lecturer at University of Bisha, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.