Lok Sabha polls: From ‘nari shakti’ to a ‘nari-mukt’ BJP in Bihar

The state's lone outgoing BJP MP, Rama Devi, has been shown the door, leaving the BJP with a ‘men only’ list of candidates

Bihar RJD president Jagdanand Singh and Congress chief Akhilesh Singh with other leaders release the mahagathbandhan candidates' list in Patna today (photo: PTI)
Bihar RJD president Jagdanand Singh and Congress chief Akhilesh Singh with other leaders release the mahagathbandhan candidates' list in Patna today (photo: PTI)

Abdul Qadir

What could possibly explain the absence of a single woman among the 17 BJP Lok Sabha candidates from Bihar? The state's lone outgoing BJP MP, Rama Devi, has been shown the door, making the BJP list ‘men only’, and prompting wags to term the situation as a 'nari-mukt (woman-free) BJP.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been waxing eloquent about nari shakti of late. Recordings of his telephonic conversations with the BJP’s women candidates were even aired on TV as news to indicate how much he valued women.

Neither party nor PM can stop crowing about the Women’s Reservation Bill passed by Parliament, the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ campaign, and schemes (supposedly) named to honour and elevate women: Mahila Samman, Nari Gaurav, Sukanya Samriddhi. And yet, the actual women remain out in the cold?

In some ways, this is reflective of the feudal conditions in the state, where men still call the shots and women are taken for granted. Even the Janata Dal (United) has given only two seats to women of the 16 seats it is contesting.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal, which had violently opposed the Women’s Reservation Bill when it was first introduced in 1998, looks likely to field at least five to six women this time. A far cry from 1998, when party MP Surendra Yadav snatched the proposed bill from the hands of then deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani and tore it up.

The RJD has already given a ticket to Archana Ravidas for the Jamui seat, which goes to the polls in the first phase on 19 April. The other women hopefuls are said to be Bima Bharti, Rohini Acharya, Misa Bharti, Anita Devi Mahto and former MP and Union minister Kanti Singh’s daughter-in-law.


Where are the OBCs?

Women are not the only significant omissions in the BJP list. Of the 17 candidates being fielded, 10 are upper-caste men. As many as five happen to be Rajputs, who constitute just 3.45 per cent of the state’s population according to the caste survey conducted last year. Brahmins, who outnumber Rajputs, have been given the two seats of Buxar and Darbhanga.

Caste is still king when it comes to elections in Bihar. Notwithstanding PM and party’s outreach to OBCs (Other Backward Classes) and Dalits, 59 per cent of BJP candidates in the state this time are from upper castes, who constitute just 15 per cent of the population, according to the survey.

The BJP’s scant regard for the caste survey, as reflected in its ticket distribution, may stem from its contempt for the survey itself, and its conviction that it will have little or no impact on the elections. Perhaps the BJP is taking the support of other castes for granted? Bihar observers believe that while the entire state is indeed caste-ridden, Rajputs, Koeris and Paswans are more caste-centric than others. For Yadavs, party affiliation will matter more than caste, they believe.

The caste cauldron of Bihar is churning with subtle and not-so-subtle attempts by the RJD to revive the old caste coalition of Yadavs, Koeris and Kurmis. The RJD is clearly wooing the Kushwaha community, which represents the Koeris and Kurmis — the two other communities in the Triveni Sangh formed in the 1930s. There are indications that RJD supremo Lalu Yadav is making a serious bid to usurp this legacy.


Foot-in-mouth disease

Bihar BJP chief and deputy chief minister Samrat Choudhary finds himself in a pickle. His comment about Lalu Yadav "selling" a ticket to his daughter Rohini Acharya in exchange for the kidney she donated to her father has sparked outrage.

A medical graduate who lives in Singapore with her husband, Rohini had earned considerable goodwill and recognition following the transplant. The political grapevine is agog with speculation that she is likely to be pitted against sitting MP and former Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy in Saran constituency.

Choudhary’s tasteless comment has not gone down well with anyone, reminding many of the time PM Modi questioned then chief minister Nitish Kumar’s DNA. Not surprisingly, both the BJP and JD(U) quickly distanced themselves from the comment and played down the potential fallout.

Choudhary, though, appears to have paid for it immediately. The BJP has ignored his recommendations for candidates, including his own caste members. A controversial politician at the best of times, he has allegedly made false claims about his age and academic record, and was once disqualified from the Bihar legislative council.


Paras left in the lurch

Not too long ago, former Union minister Pashupati Kumar Paras was preening in the company of PM Modi, having been allowed to share the stage with him in the last few rallies where Paras' nephew Chirag Paswan was conspicuous by his absence. To be dumped unceremoniously by the BJP, which has tied up with Chirag in the state, must have come as a rude shock.

Paras, whose last name means ‘touchstone’, has become a political untouchable overnight. He did resign in a huff, but now finds himself abandoned by the Opposition too. Even those party MPs who had sided with him after the death of his elder brother Ram Vilas Paswan seem to have deserted him. Another nephew and the party’s Samastipur MP Prince Raj has hitched his wagon to Chirag.

Jitan Ram Manjhi on his pilgrimage to Ayodhya (photo: @jitanrmanjhi)
Jitan Ram Manjhi on his pilgrimage to Ayodhya (photo: @jitanrmanjhi)

Paras’ efforts to instigate the children of his brother’s first wife have not paid off either. Ram Vilas was married off at the age of eight but in the 1970s, was bowled over by an air hostess who he wooed and married. (It was never made clear whether he divorced his first wife, Rajkumari Devi.)

His second wife — Chirag’s mother — is credited with the grooming of Paswan Sr and his makeover from a rustic and passionate socialist to a savvy MP and minister. With Lalu Yadav seemingly unwilling to lend a helping hand, Paras is still scrambling for a toehold, say observers.


Fourth time lucky?

Poor Jitan Ram Manjhi. Even after making a pilgrimage to Ayodhya as ordered and chanting ‘jai Shri Ram’, he might not break the Lok Sabha jinx, having contested thrice and lost each time.

He first contested the Gaya Lok Sabha seat as a Congress candidate in 1991 but lost. In 2014, he contested as the JD(U) candidate and came a poor third. In 2019, he contested as the Mahagathbandhan candidate and lost by a margin of 1.5 lakh votes. Maybe he’ll be lucky a fourth time around?

When he arrived in Gaya after receiving the go-ahead to contest from the reserved seat, BJP leader Akhauri Niranjan reminded Manjhi of his assertion in 2022 that Lord Ram was no god, rather an imaginary character created by Tulsidas.

A visibly embarrassed Manjhi raised a full-throated ‘jai Shri Ram’, which failed to appease Niranjan. No, Manjhi would have to seriously atone for his blasphemous statement, and so off he went to Ayodhya with his family to beg the lord’s forgiveness (and ensure that newspapers covered the visit).

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