The Package | 9 Stories

Caste alliances will shape the tense battle between NDA and INDIA bloc in Bihar 

The outcome of the nerve-racking contest for 40 Lok Sabha seats in the State could play a crucial role in deciding the next government at the Centre.

Published : Mar 18, 2024 16:43 IST - 5 MINS READ

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar files his nomination papers for the MLC elections, in Patna on March 5.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar files his nomination papers for the MLC elections, in Patna on March 5. | Photo Credit: PTI

In political parlance, Rome Pope ka, Madhepura Gope ka (Rome belongs to Pope and Madhepura belongs to Gope or Yadav) describes the high-profile constituency of Madhepura in Bihar. And not without reason. In the 16 Lok Sabha elections since 1967, a Yadav has represented the constituency. It is the same story in almost all constituencies in Bihar where a particular caste is dominant.

Unlike Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP’s Hindutva politics has gained traction, Bihar, the cradle of socialist politics and a hotbed of caste violence in the past, has evaded the BJP. One reason for this is the BJP’s long-standing reputation as a Bhumihar-dominated (a dominant caste) party in the State. Besides, of course, the popularity of caste leaders such as Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), both belonging to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and the late Ram Vilas Paswan (a Dalit). Both the BJP and the Congress have to depend on these regional parties to stay relevant in this State.

With the general election just weeks away, caste alliances are back in the political discourse in Bihar. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is betting big on his pitch for a caste survey to determine the number of OBCs in the country. Nitish’s party, on the other hand, claims credit for it, as it was Nitish as Chief Minister who had carried out and published the results of a caste survey in Bihar.

Also Read | Daring dozen: 12 crucial States where BJP is likely to face a stiff challenge

According to the Bihar Caste Survey, which was published in October 2023, OBCs comprise 63.1 per cent of the population. Extremely Backward Castes, among whom both the JD(U) and the BJP have a strong presence, account for 36 per cent.

The total Dalit population in the State is 14.6 per cent and Muslims constitute 17 per cent. Two-thirds of the Muslim population is Pasmanda, or backward sections among Muslims. The community is known to have so far voted as a bloc despite attempts by the JD(U) and later the BJP to woo them.

The general category accounts for 15.5 per cent of the population. Of this, Brahmins account for 3.7 per cent, Rajputs 3.5 per cent, Bhumihars 2.6 per cent, and Kayasthas 0.6 per cent. They form the BJP’s support base.

Also Read | Nitish Kumar’s opportunistic alliance with BJP could hurt INDIA bloc’s OBC strategy in Bihar

According to the survey, the Yadavs (the RJD’s key support base) constitute 14.3 per cent of the population, the Kurmis make up 2.9 per cent, and the Kushwahas 3.5 per cent. Among Dalits, the Ravidas or Mochi (Jatav in Uttar Pradesh) community forms the largest population with 5.3 per cent. However, they lag behind in political representation in comparison with the Paswans or Dusadhs, who likewise make up 5.3 per cent of the population. Musahars form 3.1 per cent of the population.

Caste cauldron

In this caste cauldron that has 40 Lok Sabha seats, it will be a tight contest between the NDA and the INDIA bloc. The NDA faces the problem of plenty, with parties of all hues under its umbrella—Nitish’s JD(U), Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha, Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Morcha [which he formed in 2023 after splitting from the JD(U)], Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, Pashupati Kumar Paras’ Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party, and Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party. In the BJP itself, Nityanand Rai and Samrat Choudhary are its Yadav and Koeri faces.

RJD leader Lalu Prasad and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the RJD’s Jan Vishwas Yatra in Patna on March 3.

RJD leader Lalu Prasad and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during the RJD’s Jan Vishwas Yatra in Patna on March 3. | Photo Credit: Aftab Alam Siddiqui/ANI

While the BJP has succeeded in building a broad-based caste coalition, the challenge for it will be to make these disparate parties work as a cohesive force with each seeking its own pound of flesh.

The BJP is keen to repeat the NDA’s 2019 performance of winning 39 of the 40 seats [the BJP won all 17 seats it contested, the JD(U) 16, and the LJP 6], but the odds are stacked against it on multiple fronts. Nitish, who has ruled the State for the past two decades, seems to have slipped in the popularity charts. Nitish’s perceived decline may have to do with his frequent switching of sides, between the BJP and the Mahagathbandhan, since 2015 when he first quit the NDA and joined the Mahagathbandhan. The LJP is currently divided into two factions, one led by Ram Vilas Paswan’s brother Pashupati Kumar Paras and the other by his son Chirag.

At a recent rally, Chirag trained his guns on Nitish and said “My alliance is only with the people of Bihar.” His remarks, coming against the backdrop of a buzz that Tejashwi Yadav had offered him a place in the Mahagathbandhan and eight Lok Sabha seats, only added to the uncertainly.

Beyond the M-Y combine

The INDIA bloc includes the RJD, the Congress, and the Left parties, but its performance in 2024 will depend on how well the Congress performs. In the 2020 Assembly election, for instance, it could win only 19 of the 70 seats it contested, while the RJD won 75 of the 144 seats it contested, and the CPI(ML) took 12 of the 19 it fought. One silver lining for the Mahagathbandhan has been the large crowds at Tejashwi’s Jan Vishwash Yatra and Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra.

Also Read | Rahul Gandhi, Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, and the power of walking

The RJD’s MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination is intact, but Tejashwi has to go beyond the traditional base following Nitish’s exit. Addressing a rally in Muzaffarpur, Tejashwi played on the word “MY” (which pronounced in Hindi means mother) and said the RJD was also a party of BAAP (Hindi word for father), expanding the acronym to mean Bahujan (the majority), Agda (upper caste), Aadhi Abadi (half of the population denoting women), and Poor.

It remains to be seen how the BJP will progress with its large alliance in Bihar and whether the RJD can shed its dabang (muscleman) image and jungle raj tag, which have haunted it even decades after it lost power.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment