Two years ago, he made “communalism” the key issue and walked out on the BJP, after the ascendancy of Narendra Modi. Today, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar hardly refers to “communalism” even while locked in a tough electoral battle vis-a-vis Modi. The reason: he has his mind made up, on the advice of his campaign managers, to downplay that theme. For, they believe that it would only help the BJP polarise voters along religious lines and clinch the ensuing assembly polls in its favour.
Sources in the JD(U) disclosed that even RJD leader Lalu Prasad was not harping on the theme, again in tune with the decided line of action. “He referred to ‘communal forces’ only once during his speech at the August 30 rally in Patna,” one source said.
The main text of the Bihar poll campaign, according to them, is the fight between upper castes (supporting the BJP) and backward castes (potential supporters of the RJD-JD[U]-Congress alliance). While Lalu has been upfront about emphasisising caste and a promised Mandal-2 phase, Nitish has been low-key, his eye on the urbane, broadminded electorate too. Party sources said poll strategists may not have taken note of it but a rising proportion (currently nine per cent) of people are opting for inter-caste marriages. In Bihar, they accounted for some 40 lakh votes, they said. The premise is that those marrying outside their castes were unlikely to be swayed by their caste identity.
The sources acknowledged that winning the support of non-Yadav backward communities remained “a challenge”, considering they were as wary of domination by Yadavs as Bhumihars, the two strong groups. Yet they were hopeful of getting half the chunk of Koeri votes, despite the presence of community leader Upendra Kushwaha in the NDA, because, they argued, Koeris and Kurmis had traditionally gone together.
The JD(U) started focusing on urban areas early. “This was the mistake that the Congress committed in Gujarat and enabled the BJP to win 54 of the 58 urban seats,” a source said. Another challenge was to find some way to effectively drive home to female voters the point that the Nitish government had reserved 35 per cent jobs for women. “Even if five per cent women vote in defiance of established factors, including the wishes of their families, our purpose would be served,” a source said.