Patna: The election pledge by BJP allies HAM and LJP to extend job quotas to the private sector if the BJP-led alliance wins the Bihar elections has upset the state's upper castes.
The move by the Hindustani Awami Morcha (HAM) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) is seen as an attempt to cut into the traditional voter base of the rival Grand Alliance of the JD-U, RJD and the Congress.
Barely days ahead of start of staggered ballotting from Monday, LJP leader and union minister Ram Vilas Paswan promised job reservations in the private sector in his party manifesto.
The upper castes, particularly youths and students, are unhappy.
Upper castes, known to be the BJP's traditional supporters, first expressed their anger after the HAM - a member of the BJP-led alliance - said it desired job reservations in the private sector.
Union minister Upender Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), another BJP ally, is likely to echo the two parties.
Sushmit Sharma alias Bhim, who is spearheading a campaign against reservation on caste lines in Bihar, said the BJP had failed to persuade its allies not to go ahead with such a promise.
"It is unacceptable to us. We will not allow it," said Sharma, who is in his late 20s and belongs to the powerful landed upper caste Bhumihar community. He favours job quotas based on economic category.
Sushmit, a businessman, asked the Bharatiya Janata Party to explain its stand on job quotas in the private sector. "How can we support a party like HAM and LJP?" he asked.
Another upper caste youth, Mahender Kumar, a graduate student in Patna preparing for examinations for government jobs, accused all parties in the state of playing the caste card.
Asked Ratinder Nath, an unemployed Brahmin man in his 30s: "Why should we vote for BJP's allies when they are trying to deprive us of private jobs too?
"As it is, there is little scope for us as far as government jobs matter. Now even private jobs will become difficult to get."
The HAM and LJP manifestoes have promised to strive for job reservation in the private sector if the BJP-led alliance takes power in the staggered Bihar polls that ends on November 5.
HAM chief Jitan Ram Manjhi is a strong advocate of jobs for the weaker communities in private companies. But his party is contesting only 20 of the 243 assembly seats.
The BJP has fielded 160 candidates, the LJP 40 and the RLSP 23 seats. BJP leaders are tight-lipped on the controversial issue.
Going by the list of candidates, it is clear the BJP is essentially relying on upper caste support in the five-phased election.
The BJP and its three allies have fielded 85 upper castes, including 36 Rajputs and 28 Bhumihars. Upper castes constitute 14-15 percent of Bihar's population.
The Janata Dal-United, the RJD and the Congress have fielded 64 Yadavs - 48 by the RJD alone - apart from 33 Muslims.
The Grand Alliance is relying heavily on the OBCs - Koeris and Kurmis. Thirty Koeris and 17 Kurmis, who belongs to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's caste, have been fielded.