As much as 25% of Bihar’s population, the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) are scattered across the state and include some 130-odd groups and sub-groups. Prominent among them are Nai (barbers), fishermen (bearing surnames of Sahani, Nishad and Kevat), Lohar (blacksmith), Teli (those in the oil business) and Nonia (traditionally they made non or nun, meaning salt).
Since the EBCs generally work for influential groups so as to make a living, they are called Pachpaunia (literally meaning serving five groups).
It was RJD chief Lalu Prasad who first realised the importance of EBCs or Pachpaunia in his social arithmetic because of their cumulative numbers, much more than any individual dominant group like the Yadavs (about 14% of the population) and Muslims (17%). Lalu meticulously courted the EBCs in his first term and termed them Pachforna (a mix of five spices). The logic was that just as Pachforna adds taste to any dish, the mix of EBCs would add to any alliance.
Nitish Kumar, with no major social group backing him, has nursed the EBCs with reservations and sundry education and welfare benefits during his time as Chief Minister. The BJP has also been wooing this section, with the result that the 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw them line up behind Narendra Modi who played up his own caste and chaiwallah image.
In the current polls, the JD(U) and RJD have given tickets to 25 and 24 EBC candidates respectively while the BJP has aligned with Mallah EBC leader Mukesh Sahani to woo Pachpaunia or Pachforna.