Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s narrative of “two Indias” seems to be resonating, though in a different form, in poll-bound Bihar with the emergence of a new, aspirational class threatening to unravel the caste calculations of the so-called secular and not-so-secular blocs.
Jeetu Yadav (name changed), a 23-year-old taxi driver from Mandiri mohalla in Patna was, for instance, all for chief minister Nitish Kumar for his development agenda. That was until he joined hands with Lalu Prasad.
“I know what Lalu government had done. I will not vote for somebody just because he is of my caste. Anybody who has done matriculation or more in my colony will vote for the BJP,” Jeetu said.
About 70 km from Patna, at Harpur Osti village in Mahua constituency, Ramanand Rai, a 65-year-old farmer, prefers the RJD that is likely to field Lalu Prasad’s son Tej Pratap from there. “Not that Laluji did anything for Yadavs when he was in power. But, even if we vote for the BJP, us party mein hamari kadra nahin hogi (we will not get respect in the BJP),” Rai said.
Jeetu may be in a minority in rural Bihar where Ramanand’s views are mostly echoed, but what could worry the caste satraps is the fact that the youth constitute a majority of the population.
In Patna Science college, Vaibhav Vishesh, a student, was dismissive of the political outrage over caste census. “I don’t believe in the caste system. Nitish Kumar government has certainly done a good job. Yet, I will not vote for either Nitish Kumar or Narendra Modi. If I have to vote, I will vote for NOTA,” he said.
These views should worry Nitish Kumar. Caste arithmetic drove him to the RJD and the Congress with the combine expecting consolidated support of Kurmis, Yadavs, and Muslims, who constitute about one-third of the vote bank. But, in the bargain, Kumar seems to have alienated a section of the electorate who came to him for his development agenda.
What could prove to be the X-factor in this caste-defined contest is what is termed as “panchphorona” in Bihar’s political parlance. A blend of spices used to temper dishes in eastern India, the term panchphoron is used for the EBCs who helped Nitish Kumar break Prasad’s stronghold among backward castes
These dissenting voices could be worrying signs for Kumar but elections are still two-three months away and it’s a long time in politics.