Yadav politics at the crossroads in Bihar

The Yadavs, who make over 14 per cent of the population of Bihar, are the largest and one of the most politically influential castes in the state. Their influence in Bihar politics coincides with the emergence and downfall and further revival of Lalu Prasad in the politics of Bihar.

The emergence of Lalu Prasad dates back to March 1990, when after the rout of the Congress party throughout the country, a comparatively low profile Janta Dal leader, Lalu Prasad had emerged as a consensus choice for the chief minister”s post in Bihar. A humble, simple chief minister in whom the common man of Bihar could find himself — he talked the language which the common man spoke, he ate the food which the common man ate. Very soon he was able to connect with the masses in the state.

Shortly afterwards, in August 1990, the then Union Government decided to implement 27 per cent reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for the backward classes. This was a sudden decision, and the government had not done any background work to ensure its smooth implementation and handle the sentiments of those from the general category who would be at a disadvantage as a result. Sadly, there was polarisation on caste lines. Violent protests took place in several parts of the country. At many places general category students committed suicide. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad allowed this social divide to grow and used this as an opportunity to successfully create a larger pro reservation political base — comprising the OBCs and the Dalits. It was a big change in the social political arena of Bihar — where for the first time the dominance of the upper castes in the society and the politics was not only challenged but was shattered. Lalu Prasad became the hero of the backward classes.

The year 1990 was not yet over, it held something even bigger — the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue had already become a big political issue and in September 1990, the then BJP president Lal Krishna Advani started a rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya to gain political support for the temple. The rath yatra was getting support from the Hindus wherever it was passing through. Probably this was the first time Hinduism had taken on a political hue at the national level and was getting traction. It posed a clear threat to leaders like Lalu Prasad, who had just created a political base on caste lines among the majority Hindus.

When Advani”s rath yatra entered Bihar, Lalu Prasad got Advani arrested in Samastipur. This was big news in the national media — Lalu Prasad became a national leader overnight and a hero for the Muslims in his state. He added the Muslims to his already strong backward, Dalit support base. Going forward, he was able to add some upper caste support to his base as well, especially among the Rajputs. Now, Lalu was Bihar and Bihar was Lalu — he was the unquestioned leader of the state. With such control he, along with his wife Rabri Devi, ruled Bihar for 15 long years. This period of 1990-2005 is often referred to as the Lalu-Rabri era of Bihar.

In his first tenure as chief minister, he had complete control over Bihar politics — he was the unanimous leader of the masses. But after that the situation started changing, there were large-scale corruption charges against Lalu Prasad besides law and order problems in the state. To add to this, there was the growing dominance of the Yadavs in the government and society and this was making many of the non-Yadav OBCs, EBCs, Dalits and Muslims uneasy and upset. This situation caused a split in the Janta Dal, and Lalu Prasad formed the RJD or Rashtriya Janta Dal, and Nitish Kumar and George Fernades formed the Samta Party.

These two developments in Bihar had laid the foundation for demolition of once unwinnable Lalu Prasad empire. He was fast losing grip over the masses and this provided an opportunity to Nitish Kumar who, with the help of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was able to win the 2005 assembly election. Since then, Lalu Prasad has been out of power in Bihar with the exception of a period of two years when the RJD was part of Nitish Kumar”s government from November 2015 to July 2017.

In this period of 14 years, Nitish Kumar-led NDA has managed to gain support in different sections of the society but in spite of all efforts, neither the BJP nor the JD (U) were able to dent Lalu Prasad”s support base. The Yadavs have by and large stood behind the RJD and his party and this has been his biggest political strength. But the 2019 general election witnessed significant shift in the Yadav politics in the state — for the first time since 1991, the control of Lalu Prasad on the Yadav politics faced serious political challenge.

The RJD didn”t win even one single seat in this election, this was when three were a few seats where the Yadav voters decide the fate of the candidates. Clearly, the Yadav in Bihar for the first time didn”t consolidate behind Lalu Prasad and looked for options beyond the RJD. It was also true that the RJD failed miserably in transferring the Yadav vote to the alliance partners.

To validate these two facts let me pick the following three parliamentary constituencies: Madhepura, Pataliputra and Ujiarpur, and try to gauge the change in the sentiments among the Yadav electorates in the respective constituency and in general in whole of Bihar.

Why have I picked Madhepura, Pataliputra and Ujiarpur? Madhepura and Pataliputra have strong Yadav presence and in both the constituencies the Yadavs decide who will win. In Ujiarpur, there is a high number of the Yadav and Kushwaha electorates, and unless the RJD failed to transfer the Yadav votes to the alliance partner, the margin of loss for the RLSP president, Upendra Kushwaha could not be as big as 2.77 lakh.

Let”s first look at Madhepura and Pataliputra. There is a popular saying in Madhepura – “Rome Pope Ka, Madhepura Gope Ka” (Like Rome is Pope”s, Madhepura is Yadav”s), this explains the dominance of the Yadavs in this constituency. All MPs elected from Madhepura have been Yadavs, no need to mention that the Yadav electorate here decide who will win and who will lose. Any change in the sentiments and the voting pattern among the Yadav electorate in Madhepura gives an indication of the Yadav politics of the whole state.

In the 2019 election, a comparatively low profile local JD (U) leader and minister in the Nitish Kumar government, Dinesh Chandra Yadav, defeated the heavyweight candidate of the RJD, Sharad Yadav, the four-time MP from Madhepura by a margin of more than three lakh votes. The incumbent MP and the rival RJD leader, Pappu Yadav, polled 97.6 thousand votes as a candidate of his newly formed Jan Adhikar party.

Pataliputra is another high Yadav population parliamentary constituency in Bihar. It came into existence after the last delamination help in 2008. In the 2009 general election, Ram Kripal Yadav, then a close associate of Lalu Prasad and a popular local leader, had won as the RJD candidate. In 2014, Lalu Prasad decided to field his daughter Misa Bharti here, and probably for the first time, a close loyal Yadav leader to Lalu Prasad moved out of the party protesting this decision. He joined the BJP and defeated Misa Bharti, the RJD candidate. In the 2019 election, the RJD and its first family had not left any stone unturned here. The party and the alliance was also united here, but once again Ram Kripal Yadav defeated Misa Bharti.

The Ujiarpur Lok Sabha constituency has high Kushwaha and Yadav population and how the two castes vote decides who will win and who will lose here and what will be the margin of win and lose. In 2014, Nityanand Rai (a Yadav) of the BJP had won over Alok Kumar Mehta (a Kushwaha) of the RJD – in that election, majority of the Yadavs had voted for Alok Mehta, and the Kushwaha had voted in good number to the BJP candidate as the RLSP was part of the NDA and it”s leader Upendra Kushwaha definitely has some appeal among his caste men in this constituency. And there was anti-Congress sentiment like in other constituencies. In 2019, Nityanand Rai had to contest against Upendra Kushwaha as the Mahagathbandhan candidate, and the margin of defeat for Kushwaha was 2.77 lakh which could not be possible unless the Yadavs chose to vote for a growing Yadav leader of the BJP over a Kushwaha leader of an alliance party of the RJD.

The results of the three parliamentary constituencies gives an idea of the shift in the Yadav politics in Bihar. The long time loyal supporters of the RJD, the Yadav in Bihar now seem to be open to other options, though the RJD still continues to be their first choice. Hence, for the RJD which was on a high since its resounding revival in the 2015 assembly election, but was not able to win even one seat in the 2019 general election — the upcoming 2020 assembly election becomes very significant, and it will be a litmus test for its grip on its core Yadav, Muslim support base.

It must regain its grip on the numerically significant Yadavs to be able to keep the Muslims with it and be able to stitch any political-social alliance to present itself as an alternative in Bihar. It has to be seen whether like the 2019 general election, the Yadavs would continue to look for political options beyond the RJD or will Tejashwi be able to keep the Yadavs together.

Author: (Rahul Vatsa is a researcher. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at vatsa.rahul@gmail.com).

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