Patna: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's reported remark suggesting a review of job and education quotas appears to have proved a blessing in disguise for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his ally Lalu Prasad ahead of Bihar's assembly elections.
RJD and JD-U leaders say that Bhagwat's statement -- later denied -- would help the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal-United to shore up their support among Other Backward Class and Dalits. And the remark has clearly landed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a spot.
Amid the campaigning for the October-November assembly polls, BJP president Amit Shah, union ministers and BJP leaders have tried to distance the party from the issue. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) too has come out with a clarification saying Bhagwat had been misunderstood.
But Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar are banking on Bhagwat's remarks on job and education quotas he made in an interview, triggering a backlash.
BJP leaders feel the issue might hurt the BJP in a state where the caste factor plays a major role. Any suggestion that reservations in jobs and education meant for poor and backward voters might be taken away is bound to cause harm in electoral politics.
"It is likely to put the BJP in a tight spot," a senior BJP leader said.
Both Nitish and Lalu Prasad enjoy strong support among the OBCs, Extreme Backward Class and Dalits. They will surely play up the RSS chief's remark to create both fear and anger among these classes.
The comment has given them a readymade issue to woo the OBCs, EBCs and Dalits by projecting the RSS and BJP as "anti-reservation and anti-backward and anti-Dalit".
Nitish Kumar has repeatedly attacked the RSS and BJP over the quota issue, and described Bhagwat's reported statement as a "dangerous thought and unconstitutional".
He said political compulsions due to the Bihar assembly polls had forced the BJP to distance itself from the RSS chief.
Socio-political analyst Soroor Ahmad said Mandal politics was being revived in the Bihar elections as Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly talked of backward castes, particularly the Yadavs.
He felt Bhagwat's remark might push many fence-sitters among the backward castes and Dalits into the fold of the grand alliance that also has the Congress besides the RJD and JD-U.
Ahmad said the BJP cannot afford to lose the overwhelming support of the upper castes but is at the same time trying hard to court the backward castes.
Lalu Prasad, who was the first to react to the RSS chief's remark on Monday, said 80 percent of the country's population was made up of Dalits and backwards who would oppose any attempt to do away with reservation.
"The RSS is talking about ending reservation and we are talking of increasing it on the basis of population," Lalu said.
JD-U leaders in Patna have hinted that the JD-U, RJD and Congress would make the reservation remark a major election issue.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at email@example.com)