Development overrides caste in Bihar battle
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Development overrides caste in Bihar battle

It is a political battle with a difference in Bihar. Although caste is still a factor, it is the cry for development that has become the main plank for assembly elections starting on Thursday.

patna Updated: Oct 17, 2010 14:28 IST

It is a political battle with a difference in Bihar. Although caste is still a factor, it is the cry for development that has become the main plank for assembly elections starting on Thursday.

Much to the surprise of many, the cry for development has virtually sidelined other issues although caste and communities do matter.

Everyone seeking to rule Bihar is promising development. Bihar, one of India's poorest states with nearly half of its 83 million people poor, has not witnessed anything like this in recent decades.

Bihar will elect a 243-member house in staggered elections that ends Nov 20. The results will be known Nov 24.

Leading the pack is Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and his ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad and his ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan besides the Congress are all wooing voters promising a better economic future.

Nitish Kumar, who keeps harping about his 'susashan' (good governance) while dubbing Lalu Prasad's regime as 'antak raj' (misrule), clearly looks the most confident.

"Give me another five years to complete the unfinished task of development," he keeps parroting at his rallies.

Sensing the people's mood, the chief minister reminds everyone that more than 50,000 criminals have been convicted during his rule.

For once, the common man agrees that long-delayed bridges have been built, roads that ceased to exist have been re-laid, and doctors now work in primary health centres.

Lalu Prasad, who used to roar like a lion for social justice, is now virtually pleading with people to give him a chance and make a turnaround in Bihar -- like he did with railways as a central minister.

Both Lalu Prasad and Paswan promise to develop Bihar if they return to power. They say the development in Bihar is due to the money provided by the central government, not Nitish Kumar.

Nitish Kumar is, however, aware that caste matters. Going by the ground reality, he is also depending heavily on well-calculated caste equations.

He is hopeful of overwhelming support from the Extreme Backward Castes (EBC) and Mahadalits, especially for providing reservation in panchayats. He is also banking on his own castemen, Kurmis, and Koeris, upper castes, backward castes and Muslims.

The BJP, which is contesting 102 seats to JD-U's 141, is seeking votes in the name of Nitish Kumar.

The RJD has put up candidates in 168 seats and LJP in 75.

The BJP's hope lies on the support of the upper castes, its traditional social base.

But the Congress seems to be making inroads into this. Political watchers say that upper caste votes will be split between the BJP and Congress.

The Congress decision to contest from all 243 seats on its own has provided an option for upper caste voters to return to the party's fold. Upper castes, particularly Bhumihars, who played a key role in ousting the Lalu-Rabri rule, are unhappy with Nitish Kumar's plans for land reforms.

Lalu-Paswan are desperately wooing Yadavs, Muslims, Paswans and Rajputs.

Lalu Prasad's castemen Yadav are keen to support him this time compared to 2005 when they seemingly deserted him. The Paswan communtiy is angry with Nitish Kumar for not including it in the Mahadalit list.

Muslims, who comprise 16.5 percent of Bihar's 83 million population and have a decisive say in over 60 constituencies, may split between Nitish Kumar, Lalu-Paswan and Congress.

The three Left parties - Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxist and Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist - are for the first time making an effort to fight the polls together.

Smaller parties like the Nationalist Congress Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Janata Dal-Secular are also in the fray.

First Published: Oct 17, 2010 13:54 IST