On October 26, at a public meeting in Rohtas, Mahagathbandhan’s CM candidate Tejashwi Yadav told the audience that “during Lalu Prasad’s rule, the poor would walk with confidence in front of Babu Saheb (a reference generally used for upper castes in the state)”, sparking a political row in the state.
The RJD leader later clarified that the reference was for bureaucrats. “I used the term for sarkari babus (government officers),” he said on Tuesday. However, the damage was done.
Sensing an opportunity to take on the Grand Alliance, the BJP pulled out an old weapon from its Bihar election arsenal. NDA leaders slammed Tejashwi for his comments, and Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi reminded people how RJD’s politics has been about “eliminating Bhu-Ra-Ba-L. “The RJD has made an objectionable remark against forward castes in its rally at Rohtas. The RJD had also opposed the 10 per cent reservation for the upper caste poor… Their politics has been about eliminating Bhu-Ra-Ba-L… They again want to divide Bihar on the basis of caste,” he tweeted.
An acronym for Bhumihar-Rajput-Brahmin-Lala (Kayastha), Bhu-Ra-Ba-L was used as a pejorative during RJD supremo Lalu Prasad’s first tenure as chief minister in the early nineties. At the peak of the Mandal agitation, which sharply divided the state across caste lines, “Bhurabal saaf karo (remove upper caste)” was among the party’s unofficial slogans. It gave more ammunition to the RJD’s ‘backward-forward’ politics – a poll plank that eventually helped Lalu Prasad and his family stay in power for a large part of the ’90s in Bihar. In fact, during the 2015 Assembly elections as well, Lalu Prasad raised the ‘backward-forward’ issue in some public meetings.
However, so far, there is no official evidence to show that either Lalu Prasad or any Janata Dal (later RJD) leader used the term. Over the years, the BJP has often raked it up to take on the RJD.
By the end of the nineties, RJD leaders became cautious of using the term even privately. And in the years that followed, the party gave tickets to several upper caste leaders. In 2009, the RJD seemed to have truly changed gears from ‘backward-forward’ politics when three of four RJD MPs were Rajputs.
Almost three decades later, ‘Bhurbal’ is back in Bihar’s election battle, and the Grand Alliance sees the NDA attack as a response to Tejashwi’s spirited fight against the ruling dispensation, and an attempt to capitalise on a minor slip of tongue during a rally. But, in a state where politics and caste cross paths every election season, and much after the dust has settled, such a controversy could ignite old tensions and change the poll math.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines