Will their fallback position hold? Mandal chieftains Lalu Prasad of the RJD and Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) are not sure, although the photographs of their joined hands and big smiles seek to paint a different picture for the voting public.
Read: Bihar bypoll to test Lalu, Nitish regroup strength
They have been forced to invoke Mandal after the solid drubbing they received — separately, as they weren’t friends at that time — from Narendra Modi-led BJP and its allies in the last Lok Sabha elections.
The decision emerged from the fact that the RJD polled 20.1% and JD(U) 15.8% — altogether 35.9% — in the last Lok Sabha polls against 29.4% polled by the BJP. Also, the two Mandal leaders desperately need to protect their Mandal vote-banks and halt Hindu vote consolidation in favour of the BJP.
The BP Mandal commission — asking for exclusive access to government jobs and slots in government-run universities and recommending a 27% increase in quotas to 49.5% for backward castes in 1980 — pushed both Yadav leader Prasad and Kurmi leader Kumar to glory during the 1980 and 90s.
For, it led to consolidation of backward caste votes.
Since the byelections are a prequel to the 2015 assembly elections, Prasad, Kumar and the Congress have formed a grand alliance against the BJP-Lok Janshakti Party-Rashtriya Lok Samata Party combo.
Observers say the bypolls will show whether Mandal politics is still relevant two decades later. For, India, meanwhile, has got the taste of liberalisation and the promise of inclusive growth by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Shivanand Tiwary, former Rajya Sabha member and close associate of both Prasad and Kumar, said, “After the 1990s and the advent of consumerism, the younger generation of the Mandal vote-bank has moved on and they are looking forward to politics of development.”
The BJP, which bagged 31 seats in the Lok Sabha polls, aims to repeat its performance in the 2015 assembly elections. “Our next aim will be to get more than 175 seats in the assembly elections,” BJP state president Mangal Pandey said. Last time in 2010, it won only six seats.
The BJP looks confident since the Mandal bond is already straining — at least among the grass-root-level party workers. JD(U) men are openly revolting against the grand alliance.
Even senior JD(U) leaders like Shakuni Choudhary have objected to Prasad’s remarks that Kumar “fell on his feet” to save the government.
With the chinks appearing and widening so fast, there are doubts that the grand alliance may not work this time. “In that case, the JD(U), the RJD and the Congress will be forced to look for other political equations to remain in the reckoning in the 2015 assembly elections,” said Choudhary.
In Thursday’s byelections in Narkatiaganj, Rajnagar (SC), Jale, Chapra, Hajipur, Mohiuddinnagar, Parbatta, Bhagalpur, Banka and Mohania (SC) seats, the RJD and JD(U) are contesting four seats each, while the Congress is fighting on two seats.
The BJP is contesting nine seats while Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party will confine itself to one seat.