If the BJP is going all out to woo Dalit voters in Uttar Pradesh to trump a likely alliance of rival parties, it is facing an aggressive RJD bid in Bihar to woo key scheduled castes leaders to corner the saffron party-led NDA in the Lok Sabha elections next year.
If the BJP is going all out to woo Dalit voters in Uttar Pradesh to trump a likely alliance of rival parties, it is facing an aggressive RJD bid in Bihar to woo key scheduled castes leaders to corner the saffron party-led NDA in the Lok Sabha elections next year. Former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who snapped his party’s alliance with the BJP in February this year to join the RJD-led alliance, told PTI that NDA governments in the Centre and Bihar have been a disappointment for Dalits for Bihar with the community in the state staring at a crisis. The only option for Dalit leaders like him is to try out another alliance as the earlier one did not work, he said.
Another scheduled castes leader and former Assembly speaker Uday Narayan Choudhary left Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) earlier this week and announced his support to the Lalu Prasad-led RJD. Incidentally, Manjhi and Choudhary have been rival leaders and the former Bihar chief minister had defeated the latter in Imamganj Assembly seat in 2015.
With both of them now together in the RJD-led alliance, which includes the Congress, RJD leaders have been quick to claim that the development highlights an “anti-BJP” mood among Dalits. “Leaders follow the churning at the ground level. As of now I can say that 70 per cent of Dalits in Bihar are with the RJD. The leaders coming to us have their ears to the ground,” RJD spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha said.
However, BJP leaders have played down the import of Manjhi and Choudhary leaving their alliance, saying that they have limited appeal. A NDA leader, who did not wish to be named, claimed that a big majority of Dalits will support their alliance as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar enjoys the backing of most marginalised castes among Dalits while Union Minister and their ally Ram Vilas Paswan is an undisputed leader of Paswans, the largest Dalit caste. He also pointed out the recent joining of former Bihar Congress president Ashok Chaudhary, a Dalit, in the JD(U) to claim that the ruling alliance retains its appeal in the community.
Jha, however, dismissed the claim and took a dig at the BJP, saying Dalit outreach for the saffron party was all about its leaders having food ordered from outside with the community members. “When Lalu Prasad as chief minister would go to Dalit localities, spend entire day with them, have food with them and get haircut for Dalit youths, then the BJP would call it a drama. Now it is doing the same drama with much more perverse manner,” he said.
Claiming that the conviction rate in cases of atrocities against Dalits in Bihar is merely 0.36 per cent and non-execution of reservation for them in promotion in government jobs, Manjhi said the community is faced with a constitutional and political crisis. Dalits are close to 16 per cent of population in Bihar and their votes could be decisive in a state where castes remain a key influence in elections.
While the BJP-led NDA is seen to be a favourite of upper castes and a number of intermediary castes, the two largest voting blocks of Yadavs and Muslims are seen to strongly backing the RJD. In such a scenario, votes of Dalits and some extremely backward castes (EBC) could be decisive.