Muslims, upper castes and Yadavs may be vocal about their preferences in this Bihar election but the extremely backward classes (EBCs) hold the key and it is they who could tilt the balance in favour of either the BJP-led NDA or Mahagatbandhan.
Constituting approximately 40% of the electorate, the EBCs are keeping their cards close to their chests, making it tough to predict the outcome.
It is also their silence that has turned this a ‘wave-less’ election. “Only few sections of voters are vocal while a large chunk, comprising EBCs and some sub-groups of Dalits are silent,” said a political analyst.
The EBCs, however, face the hard choice of supporting either of the two combines given their tenuous relations with Bhumihars, who are with the NDA, and the Yadavs, the core vote-bank of Lalu Prasad’s RJD.
“Local factors will play a crucial role in determining their choices. They may not vote for the BJP if the candidate is a Bhumihar. Similarly, it is a strict no to a Yadav in the fray,” said another political observer. But a split in the EBC vote will hurt the NDA.
All this will unravel on November 8 when votes are counted. Till then, the discussion remains largely centered around whether Nitish’s big political gamble to join hands with his one-time foe Lalu will pay off or not.
The upper castes hold Lalu as a symbol of ‘jungle raj’ and Nitish’s calculated move appears to have pushed them towards the BJP. And they will find it hard to get past his perceived betrayal.The upper castes have refused to buy the argument of JD(U) supporters that Nitish and not Lalu would be in the driver’s seat if the Grand Alliance (GA) comes to power. “Nobody can question Nitish’s good governance. He ended Lalu’s jungle raj and but has joined hands with the same person,” said Rakesh Kumar, a Brahmin, at Rajgir.
Unlike Muslims, the upper castes are quite open about their preferences. The BJP could compensate these losses in the next two phases as the NDA on ground seems to have an edge in Patna city, Bhojpur, Buxar and parts of Champaran. However, which combine will form the next government in Bihar will be decided in the fifth phase of polling on 57 seats in Seemanchal and Kosi regions.