Caste arithmetic will be on test in Bihar Tuesday as 35
constituencies, more than a dozen of them in Maoist-affected
areas, go to the polls in the penultimate round of the six-phase
This phase is crucial for both Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad as it will virtually
decide who will rule Bihar. The stakes are perhaps the highest for
Nitish Kumar, who is seeking the people's mandate for another
term, while Lalu Prasad is claiming that he is coming back to
About 8.1 million people are eligible to vote in this round to
determine the electoral fortunes of 490 candidates in the eight
worst drought-hit districts of Gaya, Patna, Nalanda, Bhojpur,
Arwal, Jehanabad, Nawada and Sheikhpura.
The heavyweights in this phase include Bihar ministers Hari
Narayan Singh, Prem Kumar, Jitan Ram Manjhi and Bhagwan Singh
It will make or mar the ruling Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal-United
(JD-U) and alliance partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its
arch rivals, the RJD and partner Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), are
vying to regain lost ground. "The caste arithmetic will play a
dominant role - over the issues of development, good governance
and rule of law," Soroor Ahmad, a political watcher who hails from
the region, locally known as Magadh with its historical
importance, told IANS.
The JD-U-BJP hope lies with the caste factor in Nalanda as well as
in Gaya, Bhojpur and Patna. Most of the candidates in Nalanda, the
home district of Nitish Kumar, belong to his Kurmi caste. Nalanda
is locally known as 'Kurmistan' as more than half the electorate
consists of Kurmi caste people.
In Bhojpur and Patna, the chief minister is banking heavily on the
extremely backward castes and Mahadalits along with other backward
castes, including voters from his own caste - Kurmi - and its
natural ally Koeri and Muslims.
On the other hand the RJD-LJP candidates are depending heavily on
the overwhelming support of the traditional caste support base of
Yadavs, Paswans and Muslims. Besides, they are hopeful to make a
dent in the upper castes who are unhappy with Nitish Kumar over a
proposed law to protect farm tenants.
The region also has some strong pockets of Communist Party of
India-Marxist-Leninist supporters, which will give a tough time to
the ruling alliance as well as the main opposition combine.
The Congress is making all efforts to make a difference in the
Magadh is still regarded as Maoist-affected by the authorities. It
is infamous for caste massacres due to rivalry between Maoists and
the Ranvir Sena, a private militia of the landed upper castes.
Though campaigning ended peacefully with no major incidents of
violence reported, ensuring safe polling in this phase will be a
challenging task for the Election Commission as well as the state
government as almost a third of the constituencies are in
Till now, the four phases of the elections - to pick a new
243-member legislative assembly - have passed off peacefully
except for stray incidents of violence.
The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist early this month
declared that it would intensify attacks to disrupt the election
process and to enforce its boycott of the polls. As many as 33 of
Bihar's 38 districts are Maoist-affected.
The campaigning saw top leaders of the ruling National Democratic
Alliance (NDA), opposition RJD and the LJP combine as well as the
Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
and the Left parties hit the campaign trail.
These included BJP's L.K.Advani and Rajnath Singh and JD-U leader
Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Congress general secretary
Rahul Gandhi. The canvassing frequently witnessed a war of words
and was occasionally marred by personal attacks.
There are several candidates with criminal records in the fray.
The last round of the elections will be held Nov 20. Votes will be
counted Nov 24.