Dheeraj Patel is so sure how Islampur will vote, he does not deem it fit to bet on it. “Challenge kahan hai?” asks the 22-year-old, referring to the JD(U) candidate.
It is in adjacent Rajgir that Dheeraj will bet Rs 1 lakh on the JD(U). He was about to meet a friend to formalise it. “We will sign on a stamp paper,” Neeraj said at Ranipur village. Asked how caste dynamics in Rajgir would play out, however, he fumbled.
In Islampur, Dheeraj’s confidence is part of the way Kurmi community feels. However, unlike the narrative of a forward-versus-backward fight in the state, Islampur has only a backward-versus-backward fight: Kurmis and Yadavs are the two dominant castes.
Almost half the 2.7 lakh electors are either Kurmis or Yadavs, the former outnumbering the latter. Both sides admit they have never voted for the same candidate. “They vote to make sure whoever we vote for loses,” said Birendra Yadav of Musimganj village. Satyendra Prasad, a Kurmi, said, “This is just a rivalry and goes away after elections.”
With the Kurmis seeming to have lined up behind JD(U) candidate Chandrasen Prasad, a Kurmi, many Yadavs have turned to the BJP, which has poached 2010’s RJD candidate Birendra Gop, a Yadav. Dharmendra Kumar, a Yadav engineer-turned-businessman who was close to the RJD, moved to the Samajwadi Party and is threatening to take away some Yadav votes.
“I went with Engineer saheb to Laluji for a ticket. Laluji asked, ‘Islampur mein kahan hai Yadav?’” said Musimganj’s Birendra Yadav, taking a break from his card game. He has always voted for the RJD but is now campaigning for the BJP. “What is the point of being with someone who will lose?” he said.
Nalanda is Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s home district. Even the BJP candidate admitted sitting JD(U) MLA Rajib Ranjan’s migration to his party has had no effect on the voting pattern of his caste, the Kurmis. “I don’t think his presence in the BJP has much of an effect… I will get Kurmi votes on my own merits,” he said.
All this, however, has had no effect on Islampur’s Kasturibigha hamlet. It has about 150 EBC Noniya families, while almost all the rest are of the Chamar caste. A few in the Chamar community are CPI(ML) cadres but no one else in the village has made a choice yet.
“My worry is that the ration shop now gives one kilogramme of rice less, that too, only at three-month intervals,” said Subhash Jamadar, a Noniya. Krishan Das, a CPI(ML) member, complains about having to wade home through knee-deep water when it rains because the Kurmi man who owns the field leading to the Dalit hamlet is refusing to let go of his thin stretch.
No one knows how Kasturibigha’s EBCs and Dalits — other than the Musahars and the Paswans — will vote. At other places in Bihar, one deciding factor has been the dominant caste closest to their homes: EBC and Dalit groups vote side with them to avoid antagonism. At Kasturibigha, this figure of authority may not be another caste, but a fellow Noniya. “Our mukhiya is a Noniya too and he has been supporting the JD(U),” said Subash Jamadar.
Islampur votes on October 28.