It is a political battle with a difference in Bihar. Although
caste is still a factor, it is the cry for development that has
become the main plank for assembly elections starting Thursday.
Much to the surprise of many, the cry for development has
virtually sidelined other issues although caste and communities do
Everyone seeking to rule Bihar is promising development. Bihar,
one of India's poorest states with nearly half of its 83 million
people poor, has not witnessed anything like this in recent
Bihar will elect a 243-member house in staggered elections that
ends Nov 20. The results will be known Nov 24.
Leading the pack is Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal-United
(JD-U) and his ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad and his ally Lok
Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan besides the Congress are
all wooing voters promising a better economic future.
Nitish Kumar, who keeps harping about his 'susashan' (good
governance) while dubbing Lalu Prasad's regime as 'antak raj'
(misrule), clearly looks the most confident.
"Give me another five years to complete the unfinished task of
development," he keeps parroting at his rallies.
Sensing the people's mood, the chief minister reminds everyone
that more than 50,000 criminals have been convicted during his
For once, the common man agrees that long-delayed bridges have
been built, roads that ceased to exist have been re-laid, and
doctors now work in primary health centres.
Lalu Prasad, who used to roar like a lion for social justice, is
now virtually pleading with people to give him a chance and make a
turnaround in Bihar -- like he did with railways as a central
Both Lalu Prasad and Paswan promise to develop Bihar if they
return to power. They say the development in Bihar is due to the
money provided by the central government, not Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar is, however, aware that caste matters. Going by the
ground reality, he is also depending heavily on well-calculated
He is hopeful of overwhelming support from the Extreme Backward
Castes (EBC) and Mahadalits, especially for providing reservation
in panchayats. He is also banking on his own castemen, Kurmis, and
Koeris, upper castes, backward castes and Muslims.
The BJP, which is contesting 102 seats to JD-U's 141, is seeking
votes in the name of Nitish Kumar.
The RJD has put up candidates in 168 seats and LJP in 75.
The BJP's hope lies on the support of the upper castes, its
traditional social base.
But the Congress seems to be making inroads into this. Political
watchers say that upper caste votes will be split between the BJP
The Congress decision to contest from all 243 seats on its own has
provided an option for upper caste voters to return to the party's
fold. Upper castes, particularly Bhumihars, who played a key role
in ousting the Lalu-Rabri rule, are unhappy with Nitish Kumar's
plans for land reforms.
Lalu-Paswan are desperately wooing Yadavs, Muslims, Paswans and
Lalu Prasad's castemen Yadav are keen to support him this time
compared to 2005 when they seemingly deserted him. The Paswan
communtiy is angry with Nitish Kumar for not including it in the
Muslims, who comprise 16.5 percent of Bihar's 83 million
population and have a decisive say in over 60 constituencies, may
split between Nitish Kumar, Lalu-Paswan and Congress.
The three Left parties - Communist Party of India, Communist Party
of India-Marxist and Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist -
are for the first time making an effort to fight the polls
Smaller parties like the Nationalist Congress Party, Bahujan Samaj
Party, Samajwadi Party and Janata Dal-Secular are also in the