Children play outside thatched houses wearing Narendra Modi masks, and a man in a T-Shirt rides a bicycle in such a mask. Another man tells children: “All of you look like Narayan Modi.”
The village is in Kasba assembly segment of Purnea constituency.
Purnea BJP district general secretary Raju Mandal, a member of the extremely backward communities, is back in his village after two months of campaigning for BJP’s sitting MP Uday Singh, who is contesting again.
Mandal left the RJD to join the BJP in 1994, the year Uday Singh won the seat by 14,000 votes, defeating RJD strongman Pappu Yadav. This time, the RJD has ceded the seat to Congress. Mandal has been touring villages to consolidate EBC votes. Uday Singh, who had won in 2009, and increased his margin to 1.87 lakh votes, is facing JD(U)’s Santosh Kushwaha, who was a BJP MLA who quit the party only last month.
Mandal tells people Modi is from the backward classes. He talks about how BJP had worked for EBCs who are seldom counted as a “deciding factor” in the absence of a strong leader and because of their scattered population with a non-uniform voting pattern. Mandal said the BJP candidate had come up with the idea of a “Modi Sena” to consolidate EBC votes. “Over 200 boys on bikes go to EBC-dominated pockets to talk to people and tell Modi is a backward class leader.”
Modi is being popularised through pocket calendars, key rings, pendants and posters of local deities and saints such as Maharshi Mehi. Dhanuk, Kevarta, Nonia and Godi are some dominant EBCs in Purnea.
BJP cadre have designations such as “panna prabhari”. “Ever since Narendra Modi gave a call of ‘booth jito, desh jito’, we have a booth palak or panna prabhari in charge of 20 families, written on a page and hence called panna prabhari. His job is to get a sense of voting inclinations to give a clues on how to improve support base,” he says.
Talk of EBCs and Uday Singh, who has a caste break-up of the constituency on his smartphone, says: “It is a long list and they have a substantial population… we are looking at a rainbow support and succeeded in making this constituency non-casteist.”
Singh is an upper caste Rajput. Rajputs are 3.46 per cent of the population. Among other upper castes, 3.3 per cent are Brahmins and o.68 per cent each Kayasthas and Bhumihars.
With no Yadav in the fray, the BJP is hoping to get majority support of the 8 per cent Yadav population. The BJP, working for EBCs and attempting to wean away Mahadalits (7.9 per cent Mushahars alone) from the Congress and the JD(U), is banking on support of a conglomeration of castes against the JD(U)’s strategy to club Kushwaha votes with Dalits, some EBCs and 23 per cent Muslims. Though Uday Singh claims he has some Muslim support, the BJP is banking on a division of the Muslim vote between the Congress and JD(U). The Congress candidate Amarnath is Tiwari.
In 2009, the BJP had won Purnea, Araria and Katihar despite each having over a 20 per cent Muslim population, which many see as proof of Hindu vote consolidation.