Following the JD (U)-BJP split in Bihar, the saffron party's Bihar unit has brought out its hidden weapon to retaliate: Narendra Modi's caste.
Local BJP leaders have come out in the open to accuse chief minister Nitish Kumar of blocking the rise of Modi, a leader from an "extremely backward caste".
Modi is Ghanchi by caste (an OBC category), which is the equivalent of Teli in Bihar.
"Nitish Kumar is unable to swallow the fact that BJP is promoting a leader from one of the most backward castes who used to sell tea as a child," Bihar state BJP chief Mangal Pandey told HT.Senior BJP leader from Bihar Sushil Modi has also been harping on Modi's backward status.
Modi, however, may refrain from articulating his caste status, as he wouldn't want to send the message that he is the leader of just a segment of Hindus.
Significantly, Nitish Kumar, from the OBC Kurmi caste, has assiduously tried to cultivate an extremely backward caste base to beat the Muslim-Yadav combine of arch-rival Lalu Prasad of the RJD.
He has also sought to carve out a Maha Dalit (extreme Dalit) constituency of non-Paswan Dalits. The Paswans are with Ram Vilas Paswan, an ally of Lalu Prasad.
The BJP believes that Modi's hardline image makes him popular among upper castes too.
"The BJP will win the upper caste votes. It will also get the Vaishya and Teli votes, both backward groups in Bihar, with Narendra Modi as its campaign head. Only the Kurmis remain Nitish's secure vote," a Bihar BJP leader said.
Modi's backward status has been talked about in hushed tones by Bihar's BJP leaders for months now, but the campaign is likely to become open now.
"Modi has never referred to his caste identity but what's wrong if Bihar leaders refer to it?" asked a central BJP office-bearer.