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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

The new social equation in Bihar

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

Patna

The political combination formed in Bihar on Saturday between the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Lok Janshakti Party, the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party and the CPI (M) points towards a new consolidation of social forces in the State's politics dominated by caste and community oriented considerations. The alliance is expected to bring together Muslims, the backward caste Yadavs and the Dalit community of Paswans.

Central to the genesis of this social combine is the entry of the LJP, led by the former Union Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, into the RJD-led front. The RJD and its president, Laloo Prasad Yadav, have held sway over the State's political milieu for about one and a half decades basically on the strength of a combination of Yadavs and Muslims. This social grouping termed the MY factor had helped the RJD garner 28.3 per cent of the popular vote in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, even when the party suffered a drubbing at the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal (United) combine.

Mr. Paswan was part of the BJP-JD (U) combine then and his party had played a significant role in the NDA victory. The RJD leaders are of the view that Mr. Paswan's departure from the NDA and the LJP's shift to their side will help them make major gains this time.

A closer look at the caste composition of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar reveals that this hope is not unfounded. The Paswan community is dominant in about six to eight constituencies, including Hajipur and Rosera, from where LJP leaders Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramachandra Paswan have got elected repeatedly. Informal estimates are that the community forms close to 20 per cent of the total voters in the two seats.

But the political significance of the community is not merely in the demographic dominance it has in these constituencies. The community has a presence ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 in the rest of the seats. Unofficial estimates are that even in Barh, held by the JD (U) leader and Railway Minister, Nitish Kumar, there are 50,000 Paswan voters. This factor seems to have played a major part in the "warm reception" accorded to the LJP by the RJD. On the other hand, Mr. Nitish Kumar's decision to contest from Nalanda as well as Barh highlights not only the importance of the Paswan community's vote in Barh but also the sense of insecurity the LJP's departure from the NDA has caused in the Minister.

Another factor that helped the LJP's cause vis--vis the RJD was Mr. Paswan's proven ability to transfer his community's votes to any combine he supports. The 1999 elections were a testimony to this.

The LJP has, undoubtedly, got royal treatment from the RJD's allies. It has been allotted eight Lok Sabha seats and a Rajya Sabha seat for Narendra Singh, its State unit president. The LJP will contest from Bagha, Hajipur, Rosera, Balia, Purnea, Saharsa, Araria and either Muzaffarpur or Nalanda. According to RJD leaders, the party was totally in favour of "accommodating" the LJP honourably though it did not have a similar opinion about the CPI and the Congress. The Congress, which had demanded 22 constituencies at one stage, has been allotted only four — Madhubani, Aurangabad, Sasaram and Begu Sarai.

Obviously, the central theme of the new alliance is to rally the backward castes, Dalits and Muslims into a unified political entity in opposition to the combination of forward castes and some backward castes forged by the NDA. According to some RJD leaders, the CPI was deliberately given short shrift and virtually barred from joining the new alliance because it party would have diluted "the thematic thrust" of the alliance. The CPI still draws a large part of its following from the upper caste Bhumihar community. "Fighting on its own, the CPI would cut more into the NDA's vote base and in any case its non-presence would help us forge the proposed backward caste-Dalit-Muslim alliance with relative ease," said an RJD leader who wished to remain anonymous.

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