Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been dismissing various poll surveys predicting a poor showing by his party in the Lok Sabha polls, even calling them sponsored and a “source of entertainment”. Yet he must know that he has been losing ground after the split with the BJP.
The BJP has since then been playing up the Narendra Modi factor, the “betrayal” of the Bihar mandate, and Modi’s EBC card, besides staking its own claim to socialist leader and former CM Karpoori Thakur’s legacy. This in particular has miffed the JD(U), forcing a rethink of strategy. Hence the choice of Ramnath Thakur, son of Karpoori Thakur, for a Rajya Sabha nomination. It was not part of the original plan. A surprised and overwhelmed Ramnath, lying low since his defeat in the last assembly election, was at loss of words after the chief minister’s “gesture”. But political pundits call it a masterstroke by Nitish to have played on the Karpoori symbolism at just the right tim. Karpoori Thakur has been the biggest EBC leader Bihar has had in the last four decades.
The embattled Bihar CM also knows that two important EBC leaders in his party, Jhanjharpur MP Mangani Lal Mandal and Muzaffarpur MP Jaynarain Nishad, have been upset with him for some time. His poll strategists know the value of the EBC votes, which account for 27 per cent of Bihar’s total. With both the RJD and the BJP trying to woo this section, it has not yet been branded any particular party’s voters.
Voting patterns shows that EBC votes follow the trend shown by the majority in their neighbourhood. With the BJP confident of retaining its traditional OBC Baniyas and upper-caste votes, Lalu of OBC Yadav and part Muslim votes, and Nitish more or less sure of most of the 12 per cent Mahadalit votes, the EBC vote may well play the decider.
Ramanth has always been content at being identified with his father’s illustrious name. It remains to be seen if his going to upper house can convince EBCs. For the moment, though, Nitish has gained an edge with his Karpoori symbolism, though the BJP may soon be back with more NaMo tea and a louder clamour for Modi as PM.
Santosh is a special correspondent based in Patna.