Narendra Mishra is an upper-caste farmer who spent most of his life in his village, taking care of his fields just off the highway near Madhubani in north Bihar.
He voted for the Congress for decades, but is anxious to stave off the Grand Alliance’s victory this time, fearing the return of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar will mean a suppression of their dominant status.
“The Congress started encouraging these “backward people” who worked on our fields to ask for more wages. When we said anything, they asked them to file cases against us,” said Narendra, explaining why they moved away from a party that once comprised upper castes, Muslims and Dalits.
Its successors – the Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United) – gave the lower castes and class a voice, and the Mishras didn’t like it.
“Congress started it, former chief minister Karpoori Thakur made it worse, and everything was ruined by Lalu and Nitish. Things were good before that,” said Narendra’s grandson Ram Kumar Mishra, who has just retired from Bihar Police.
The district goes to the polls in the last phase of the fiercelycontested state elections on November 5 and Ram said the BJP will win.
“We are with Modiji. All forwards —Brahmans and Bhumihars — are together. And so are the Dalits and ati pichdas, extreme backwards,” Ram said.
The village has about 2,800 Muslims, 1,200 upper castes, 1,200 Dalits, about 1,000 extremely backward castes and 500 Yadavs.
But wasn’t it a problem that the BJP had no chief ministerial candidate? “Did Indira Gandhi have CM candidates? We were then Congress voters. Congress won, she nominated, and the person became chief minister. That is what Modiji will do,’ responded Ram Kumar.
The desire to see an era of upper-caste dominance is probably one driver of the pro-BJP wave among these communities, though the BJP hasn’t promised any such thing and has wooed backwards.
But the state’s upper castes have been uncomfortable with the aggressive ‘social justice plank’ of backward parties, and more comfortable with the emphasis on ‘social unity’ of the Hindus of the RSS-BJP combine.
Another factor is their deep dislike for Lalu and concerns about governance.
“Nitish did a good job. There is a road from the town to my village. He has improved electricity. But I can’t vote for him,” said a retired Brahmin professional in Purnea.
He attributed it to Lalu’s presence in the alliance and said they could never support the man who created lawlessness, failed on the development front and created hostility against upper castes. “How can we trust him and his family?”
Like the BJP has given up on the Muslim vote, the Grand Alliance knows the bulk of the forward caste vote is lost. But they hope that their upper caste candidates would be able to win some support or exploit contradictions among upper caste groups in some seats.