Caste, it seems, can never be banished from India.
Come elections and parties swearing by new developmental models such as Bihar’s ‘all-inclusive model’ and Gujarat’s ‘market-oriented model’ find that elections can hardly be won without careful selection of the ‘right caste’ candidate.
The buzz word is ‘social engineering’, a euphemism for caste combinations, which parties see as the best hope to win seats.
“Political parties have been talking about development but most of them have selected their candidates on the basis of caste. It is because they tend to tilt towards parochial identities,” said Patna-based social scientist DM Diwakar.
After the NDA’s spectacular victory in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, in which it won 32 of the state’s 40 seats, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had claimed that people no longer wanted caste identities but the new-found cross-caste Bihari identity. The very next year, Kumar blogged during the state assembly elections that the caste divide had been bridged to a large extent by development work undertaken by his government.
But after the JD(U) quit the NDA last year, the scenario changed. And caste has become an important factor not only for the JD(U) but for all the players, big and small, in the coming elections.
“Caste is a reality in Bihar, particularly in the context of elections. Each caste group has been given representation but we are fighting the polls on the issue of special category status for Bihar,” said state JD(U) chief Bashishtha Narayan Singh.
Kumar seems confident of retaining support among the extremely backward castes (EBCs), which form nearly 30% of the state’s population, and the scheduled castes (SCs), who constitute 15.7%. But he is not complacent about support from Muslims and Yadavs and has unveiled plans to win them over. The JD(U) has given six seats to Yadavs and five to Muslims in a bid to dent the combination of these two communities that the RJD is banking on. Besides, the JD(U) has allotted 11 seats to Kurmis and Koeris and EBCs. The party is also wooing the upper castes, fielding nine candidates from the Bhumihar, Rajput, Brahmin and Kayastha castes.
Similarly, the BJP-led combination is pinning its hopes on upper castes and sections of the backwards castes and EBCs. The BJP has given the maximum representation to Rajputs, fielding seven of them, followed by Bhumihars, four of whom are contesting on the BJP ticket. The party has also fielded one each from the Koeri, Kayastha and Muslim communities.
“Our main idea is to strike a balance among the various castes so that no one feels ignored,” said former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi of the BJP.
The RJD, which is contesting for 27 seats, has given maximum representation to the powerful Yadavs and Muslims by fielding nine and six candidates from these communities, respectively. Its allies — the Congress and NCP have given two seats to Yadavs and two to Muslims. Thus, the UPA has fielded 11 Yadavs and eight Muslims.