Lalu consolidates loyalists but leaves some jittery

Lalu consolidates loyalists but leaves some jitteryPATNA: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar might have teamed up with RJD chief Lalu Prasad to form a strong backward class bloc that would be a firm favorite to win the assembly polls but it also appears to be costing him a crucial chunk of votes, including many traditional supporters.

The RJD chief’s pro-Mandal rhetoric and his description of the polls as “forwards vs backwards” battle has somewhat consolidated his core Yadav voters, but close watchers of the poll scene say it has also nudged fence-sitters as well some Nitish’s former supporters closer to the BJP-led NDA.

“I have always voted for Nitish Kumar. But Lalu Prasad has not been good for us,” said Sukhdev Mahto, a rickshaw-puller who belongs to Mahadalit group.

“I will vote for Modi sarkar,” he said, making his preference clear for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the NDA’s face in the poll as the alliance has not declared its chief ministerial candidate.

BJP has used Lalu’s caste pitch to amplify its message that a vote for Nitish will bring back ‘jungle raj’ as it works to corner a majority of votes from communities like extremely backward castes (EBC), who ditched Lalu to support Nitish but voted for the saffron party in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

EBCs constitute anywhere between 30-35 per cent of voters and comprise dozens of castes. Seen a floating voting group, they are being wooed vigorously by the two rival alliances in a state where caste is perhaps the single most important factor in electoral politics.

While Nitish hopes they will return to support his bid for a third term as chief minister after being swayed by Modi’s development agenda in 2014, BJP is pulling out all stops to ensure they remain on their side.

The Yadav satrap is at the centre of the NDA’s high-voltage campaign against the Nitish-led grand alliance comprising JD (U), RJD and Congress with right from the Prime Minister to BJP chief Amit Shah and other NDA bigwigs attacking Lalu. Shah has often referred Nitish as mere “mask” for Lalu.

Lalu’s “Hindus too eat beef” comments has allowed BJP to shake off its defensive mode following RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for a review of the reservation policy and attack the grand alliance on the communally sensitive issue, referred to by Modi in his rallies today to woo Yadavs, who have traditionally been involved in dairy business.

While Nitish has been busy countering BJP’s attack on his development track record and claims that Bihar has fared better than several BJP-ruled states, the electoral discourse has been dominated by Lalu.

However, several JD (U) leaders insist the gains for them after Nitish joined hands with Lalu far outweigh the losses.

“What is the harm if Lalu ji talks of caste? He is a product of forwards versus backward politics. If all backwards unite, can anybody stop Nitish ji (from becoming chief minister again,” Sunil Saran, a JD (U) leader, asks at the party headquarters which is abuzz with campaign discussion.–PTI

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