BJP jittery of Congress splitting upper caste votes in Bihar

April 28th, 2009 - 3:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party Patna, April 28 (IANS) The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may outwardly maintain that its traditional base of the upper castes in Bihar is intact, but its leaders privately admit that the Congress, which is fighting the polls on its own in the state this time, is likely to eat into their vote share.
“The BJP is sure of getting overwhelming support of its traditional base - the upper castes,” declared state BJP president Radha Mohan Singh, who belongs to the upper caste himself.

But after two rounds of polls and with the Congress aggressively wooing upper castes, BJP leaders don’t seem confident enough of the support base it carefully cultivated during the last two decades, but say so only on the condition of anonymity.

“The Congress has made inroads into the upper castes votes in the state during the first and second phase of polls for 26 of 40 seats. It was clear in at least over half a dozen constituencies if not more,” a BJP leader said requesting he not be named.

The BJP has been relying heavily on the upper castes and emerged the only major party in Bihar that claims to safeguard their interests after 1991.

In caste-ridden Bihar, everyone relies on castes to win elections, except that most parties lean on the so-called backward castes, Dalits and Muslims. Even the Congress, until its influence began to wane from 1989, secured the support of upper castes, Dalits as well as Muslims.

While Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad is sure of securing the support of his Yadav caste and the Muslims, Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader Nitish Kumar is confident of his caste men - the Kurmis - and the support of Kushwaha. Similarly, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) head Ram Vilas Paswan has no doubts about his caste men - the Paswan community - rallying behind him, and the BJP has been sure of its upper caste base.

But these caste equations will be tested this time with the Congress providing an alternative.

“The Congress is going to surprise everyone with its performance as the party voted by all, including a large number of upper castes,” state Congress president Anil Kumar Sharma told IANS here.

In the last few weeks, BJP as well as JD-U leaders have been urging the upper caste electorate not to split their votes in favour of parties other than the BJP-JD-U alliance. BJP-JD-U leaders say it was the upper caste voters that backed them to end the 15-year rule by Lalu Prasad’s RJD in 2005.

The Congress has been calculative and has fielded more upper caste candidates than the BJP-JD-U combine. It has put up 16 upper caste candidates, including five bhumihars, four Rajputs, four Brahmins and one Kayasth.

The party has fielded TV star Shekhar Suman, a Kayasth, against BJP’s Shatrughan Sinha, a Kayasth from Patna Saheb constituency. It has also fielded Lovely Anand, wife of former MP Anand Mohan, a Rajput, against BJP’s Rama Devi, a backward caste, from Sheohar constituency, known as a Rajput stronghold.

Congress has pitted Sunila Devi, a Bhumihar, against LJP’s Veena Devi, a Bhumihar from Nawada constituency. The BJP has fielded Bhola Singh, also a Bhumihar, for the seat.

Similarly, the Congress has fielded Brahmins as well - Kripa Nath Pathak from Jhanjharpur, K.K Tiwary from Buxar and Vijay Shankar Dubey from Siwan seat.

The JD-U has not fielded any Brahmin candidate, angering senior party leader Jagannath Mishra, who quit in protest and is now campaigning to defeat the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The BJP, contesting 15 constituencies, has fielded two Bhumihar candidates, three Rajputs, two Brahmins and one Kayasth.

“It is certain that the Congress is trying hard to split the upper caste vote, which is a traditional supporter of the BJP. They (Congress) may succeed to some extent,” admitted a senior BJP leader, who is a minister in the Nitish Kumar-led government.

Another BJP leader said this indeed was the first time in over 15 years that the upper caste voters had an alternative to the BJP.

“It is bound to affect us in the elections,” he said on condition of anonymity.

The third and fourth phases of polls in Bihar are to take place April 30 and May 7.

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