Power shifts from OBCs to upper castes in Bihar after three decades

Upper Caste control of power in Bihar is the political message of the NDA victory in the Assembly election. It has ended the 30-year old dominance by OBCs in the state

Power shifts from OBCs to upper castes in Bihar after three decades

Zafar Agha

Defying exit polls and the popular mood on the ground, the NDA has managed to win the Bihar assembly elections. The final tally as announced by the Election Commission late last night is 125 seats for the NDA and 110 seats for the Mahagathbandhan in a House of 243.

Despite losing the election by a whisker, Tejashwi Yadav-led RJD has emerged as the single largest party with 75 seats compared to the BJP’s 74 seats in Bihar assembly. The Congress and the Left parties won 19 and 16 assembly segments respectively.

There are many issues that the Bihar assembly results have thrown up. But three major political currents sum up this election.

First, upper castes finally managed to take back control over state power after over three decades in Bihar from OBCs. Secondly, Nitish Kumar has been reduced to a puppet in Bihar politics even if he is made the chief minister of the state for the fourth time in a row. And finally, Lalu Yadav’s legacy of social justice is not yet over as Tejashwi Yadav emerged as the tallest opposition leader to fill his father’s vacuum on the ground.

Narendra Modi-led BJP had cut out two game plans to wrest Bihar from the backward castes’ control to deliver it to the upper castes. Plan A was to somehow stop Tejashwi Yadav-led Mahagathbandhan coming to power as it primarily represented OBC political aspirations through social justice plank. The BJP’s plan B was to cut Nitish down to size to push non-Yadav backwards to a secondary partnership in power with the primary goal of making upper castes the key players in post-Lalu Yadav Bihar.

BJP strategists put up two proxies to facilitate their job. Owaisi-led All India Muslim Ittehad ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) was pitched into the minority dominated Seemanchal region of Bihar. The AIMIM’s task was to dent the Muslim vote bank that has been a solid base of the RJD since 1989 and made a winning Yadav-Muslim (M-Y) combine for Lalu’s social justice politics.

The second BJP proxy in this round of Bihar assembly election was the Lok Jan Shakti Party’s (LJP) new boss Chirag Paswan, whose assignment was to cut Nitish Kumar to the status of being the secondary partner so that non-Yadav backward castes too lose their bargaining strength in the new power dispensation.

Both AIMIM and the LJP seem to have delivered on their assigned tasks well. The AIMIM has won only five seats. But it has damaged the Mahagathbandhan’s prospects in at least 10 seats in the Seemanchal region where it polled second. Every vote polled by the AIMM basically divided the anti-BJP vote, helping the BJP win those seats where the Mahagathbandhan could have easily won without the AIMIM’s presence.

The LJP itself won only one seat out of the 137 seats it contested. Bihar analysts, however, point out that it heavily hit JD (U) nominees in about 75 seats, reducing Nitish Kumar’s strength to 43 seats in the assembly.

Nitish, the second pole of non-Yadav OBC politics in Bihar, was thus cut down to size, paving the way for the upper castes to call the shots in Bihar’s power structure. Modi and his team thus managed to stop the OBCs’ dominance in Bihar politics for the last three decades.

But Tejashwi-led RJD still managed to emerge as the single largest party, signalling that the OBCs may be down but they are still not out of Bihar’s political game. Being young with a tremendous mass appeal cutting across castes, Tejashwi remains a thorn in the flesh of upper castes in post-Lalu Bihar politics.

Upper castes in Bihar have been struggling for three decades to roll back politics of social justice. It is, indeed, another feather in Narendra Modi’s cap who can claim that he restored Bihar to the upper caste Hindus after capturing Uttar Pradesh from the OBCs.

It is no minor victory personally either for Modi who has emerged as the sole leader of Sangh politics of upper caste domination in the country. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two key power centres in the country, are now firmly under the control of upper castes, courtesy Narendra Modi. And, it makes him the darling of the Indian power players who sustain him despite his blunders like demonetisation and the sudden and harsh COVID-19 lockdown which hit a sledgehammer blow to the economy.

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Published: 11 Nov 2020, 5:12 PM