If it was still any mystery, the current election in Bihar has made it clear that politics in the state is centred around only one word — caste. Bihar veteran Lalu Prasad Yadav echoed these sentiments recently, albeit for his political ends, and may well be taken to task by the Election Commission for them. He said that the election in Bihar is actually a war between the upper castes and the backward castes. The election is indeed war, but it is not that only the upper castes are pitted against the backward castes and the lower castes, they — both the backward and the lower castes — are pitted against themselves as well. While politicians clinically analyse caste configurations in the state, the people of Bihar are left to fend for whatever farcical development schemes are on offer in the state.
Those who have travelled through the hinterlands of Bihar will know that Lalu was actually calling a spade a spade. While the campaigning by various political parties for the current election in Bihar was at its peak, TEHELKA visited a hamlet in the hinterlands of the state.
Dilma is a village situated around 20 km from the holy city of Gaya. Far from the charged up atmosphere in Patna and other cities in the state, Dilma, which comes under the Tikari Police Station, waits for a community centre which was supposed to be established there a few months back. However, the politics of caste puts hurdles in the path of social development for the village. The community centre itself has become the point of contention in the village which reflects the social reality that prevails in Bihar.
When TEHELKA met 69-year-old Janak Ravidas, the sarpanch of the village panchayat and a Mahadalit, he took us to his village to show us the spot where a community centre was supposed to come up. A long walk through the dirt path led us to an open area where the community centre is to be built. The village is divided among the Mahadalits and the Yadavs. Being the dominant caste, the Yadavs have supressed the Mahadalits for years, but the situation has changed in the last few decades with the Mahadalits rejecting such oppression. However, all has not changed in the village; the Yadavs have blocked the roads to progress for the Mahadalits
The main road that the Mahadalits used, which is a direct approach to their homes, has been broken by the Yadavs. The road remains unusable despite the fact that the SDM of the area had ordered that it be remade. The community centre plan has also been held because the Yadavs will not let it be built as they have laid claim to the land proposed as the site for the centre. When we were about to reach the site, a group of people belonging to the Yadav community, thinking that we were there to help the Mahadalits in some way, started shouting at us. They said that it was their land and they did not want any community centre to be built there.
Community centres are usually used as polling booths in Bihar. They can be used as schools, health centres and centres of cultural activities. In short, a community centre can mean a gateway to social development for a village. The complexity of the caste system in Bihar is such, that the Yadavs do not want this for the Mahadalits. However, the village sarpanch, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) CPI(ML), insists that he will see to it that the community centre is established in his village.
The irony in Bihar’s caste politics is that the two warring groups may end up voting for the same Grand Alliance. Though a section of the Mahadalits have left Nitish Kumar, he still maintains a sizable number of supporters among the community. The alliance with Lalu Yadav would definitely help the Yadav votes to gravitate towards the Grand Alliance. But, despite this, the friction between these two caste groups would continue to upset the social fabric of Bihar.
Though the Yadavs are from the lower strata of the Hindu caste system, they resent any move that would empower the Dalits and the Mahadalits. They want the Mahadalits and Dalits to lead a life of dependency, Dilma being the case in point. A college student from the Yadav community in Dilma told us that now they have difficulty in finding people to cremate their domestic animals, an obvious reference to the job which was traditionally allotted to the Mahadalits by the unjust caste order. The caste war is fought in almost all villages in Bihar on a day to day basis. Politicians want to preserve it and highlight it as and when they need it. A look at the candidate list of both the Grand Alliance ( JD(U), RJD and Congress) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) reveals that caste is the main factor in the distribution of tickets as well. Now, the logic behind all political formations issuing tickets based on caste is more than obvious. They do not want to break the caste conundrum; they are comfortable with the caste system.
While no alliance wants to lose its core supporters, they aim to eat into the fixed vote share of each other. The NDA have fielded 85 out of the 243 seats to upper caste candidates, which include 36 Rajputs, 28 Bhumihars. Contrast this with the fact that the upper caste population in the state is below 15 percent. On the other side of the political spectrum the Grand Alliance has fielded 64 seats to just the Yadavs. Lalu’s RJD is trying to bank on the support that they hope to get from the Yadav community by allotting them 48 seats. The Grand Alliance has also fielded 33 Muslim candidates in an effort to maintain their Muslim — Yadav support base. JD(U)’s dependency on Koeries and Kurmis is also evident. They have fielded 30 Koreris and 17 Kurmis.
It was after the rise of Mandal politics, that the upper castes shifted their allegiance from the Congress to the BJP. At the same time the EBCs (extremely backward castes) were largely with Nitish while he was with the NDA alliance. But, when Modi had a dream run in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he was able to win over a sizable section of the EBCs towards the NDA alliance sans Nitish. Ever since, the BJP have been desperately trying to maintain the confidence of the EBC community by observing various community festivals.
However, the RSS statement on reservations has put the BJP in the defensive. Many from the party confided to TEHELKA that the statement was wrongly timed. The appeal to review the current reservation system may find favour with the upper castes, but for a party which strives hard to regain power through various permutations and combinations of caste, it remains to be seen how this will affect them.
When the entire nation is watching the battle for Bihar, some political observers feel that the outcome will have a cascading effect in national politics. The battle, fought at the ground level, is on the basis of caste. No party dares to break the conundrum, as is evident from the way the tickets have been allotted by meticulously calculating caste equations.