As Leader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Prasad Yadav addressed a public meeting in Jehanabad town Thursday, with former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi sharing the dais, the crowd waved its hands and chanted zindabad. The same day, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan’s son-in-law Anil, a.k.a. Sadhu Paswan, joined the RJD with a group of Scheduled Caste leaders during the day, and although this is being seen as being only of symbolic importance, RJD cadres looked optimistic.
Tejashwi talked of political vendetta, describing how his father was “put behind bars in a deep-rooted conspiracy of NDA leaders”. In his father’s absence, many see it as an opportunity for him to further consolidate Muslim and Yadav votes, besides making a dent in Nitish Kumar’s core vote-base of EBCs and Mahadalits.
The Jehanabad Assembly bypoll was necessitated by the death of RJD MLA and principal general secretary Mundrika Prasad Yadav. In 2010, it was the JD(U) that had won the seat with BJP as its ally. Now with Nitish Kumar back in the NDA and former JD(U) MLA Abhiram Sharma contesting, the JD(U) is hopeful of regaining the seat.
Its social arithmetic involves a rainbow combination of upper castes, mainly Bhumihars, OBC Kushwahas and Kurmis, and Scheduled Caste Mahadalits, mainly Mushahars. While the RJD is looking at a Muslim-Yadav consolidation and taking away a section of the Mahadalit vote with Manjhi’s help, the NDA is hoping for polarisation of anti-Yadav votes. Yadavs dominate the seat with over 50,000 voters, followed by Bhumihars with about 47,000 voters. OBC Koeri and Kurmi voters number 14,000, Muslim voters about as many, while Paswans and Mushahars account for more than 20,000 votes together.
While the JD(U) does not overtly play up caste, second-rung RJD leaders do so. RJD district president Muzaffar Hussain Rahi, presiding over the Jehanabad meeting, introduced almost every speaker by caste. “Ye Pasi (SC) samaj se aate hai, ye Kushwaha (OBC), ye Paswan (SC) se hai.” And Aurangabad-based RJD leader Urmila Singh said, “I am Rajput (upper caste) and have come here to appeal to all Rajput leaders to vote for RJD candidate Kumar Krishna Mohan or Suday Yadav, son of the late Mudrika Yadav.” The wife of the late MLA, too, was on stage.
Chief Minister Nitish, who addressed public meetings at Sakurabad and Ratni in Jehanabad, described development and hit out at Lalu for his “love for wealth”. The CM said the RJD had nothing to offer other than attempt to create a social divide. At Sakurabad, he said, “I was tolerating that person (Lalu Prasad).There could not have been two power centres. RJD leaders were interfering in local governance.” Nitish also reminded people how difficult it had been to travel through Jehanabad 13 years ago.
While Nitish sought to take credit for prohibition, Tejashwi described how SCs were harassed in the name of the liquor law. A district-level leader accused police of taking away chickens of the poor during liquor raids. Jehanabad saw the first convictions — of two SC Mushahar brothers — under the liquor law. Manjhi said the NDA would not care for Dalits and demanded reservation in proportion to Dalits’ population. Manjhi quit the NDA after it denied his party the Jehanabad seat.
Many among the local youth are upset with JD(U) candidate Abhiram Sharma. “Several youths were arrested on charges of provoking communal tension during Sharma’s term as MLA. He should have tried to defend the youths who had no connection with all that. He took us for granted and must pay for it,” said Navin Singh, a graduate who had come to listen to Tejashwi.
A JD(U) leader camping in Jehanabad said: “Many factors are at play. Abhiram Sharma had won us this seat, he will do it again.”