New Delhi: An interesting political recipe is doing the rounds in a slogan coined by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) workers in Bihar. “Babhan ke chooda, Yadav ke dahi, dono mili tab Bihar me hoi sab sahi,” it says — meaning, in effect, that if the Bhumihars-Brahmins and Yadavs come together, Bihar’s problems can be fixed.
This slogan got prominence on 3 May after Leader of the Opposition Tejashwi Yadav of the RJD joined in as the ‘chief guest’ of the Parshuram Jayanti celebrations organised by the Bhumihar-Brahmin Ekta Manch, a social outfit. The event was remarkable because it definitively signalled an end to the traditional animosity between the two communities.
For the BJP, which is in an uneasy ruling alliance with the Janata Dal (United), this coming together of two powerful castes — which have traditionally had an antagonistic equation — is not good news.
The upper caste Bhumihars, who have been part of the BJP’s core vote-base in the state, have been getting increasingly alienated from the party. In last month’s bypoll in the Bochaha assembly seat, the community aligned with the Yadavs and lower-caste Mallahs and gave a thumping victory to the RJD candidate.
This shift, according to Bihar BJP leaders, is because the community is upset at being sidelined by the party leadership.
Former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, for instance, has acknowledged that the Bhumihars are angry with the party and action will be taken to placate them. However, he also pointed out that “no other political party has given so much to the Bhumihars as the BJP”. This, he added, applied to the “number of seats, both in the Lok Sabha and assembly, and ministerial berths”.
Nevertheless, the community still feels hard done by in terms of representation during the 2020 state elections and in last month’s legislative council polls. Over the last couple of months, in fact, members of the community have made no bones about shifting their allegiance to the RJD.
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Warning signs at the polls, BJP seeks to course-correct
In the case of the Bochaha assembly seat, the BJP candidate lost by a margin of over 40,000 votes. The party as well as political observers have attributed this in large part to the Bhumihars’ decision to vote together for the RJD as a way to show the BJP that they should not be taken for granted.
The Bhumihars also supported the RJD in the recent polls to 24 legislative council seats, with three leaders winning on the party’s ticket.
According to local BJP leaders, one reason was that BJP minister Ram Surat Rai publicly referred to party members from the Bhumihar caste as “land mafia”.
“I was told in a Bhumihar-dominated village in Bochaha that the BJP should look for Yadav votes,” BJP MLA Haribhushan Thakur told ThePrint. He stressed that Bhumihars could not be taken for granted, and they had shown that they could vote for RJD.
Concerned over the recent developments, a number of BJP leaders believe that a course-correction can be effected by striking a better caste balance.
For the past two terms of the NDA government in Bihar, the BJP’s state unit chief has come from the OBC community: Sanjay Jaiswal now, and Nityanand Rai (now Union MoS Home) before him. With Jaiswal’s tenure due to end September, some party leaders told ThePrint that the next state president should be from an upper caste community — and preferably a Bhumihar.
According to a BJP source, some of the names doing the rounds include the current Speaker of the Bihar assembly Vijay Kumar Sinha, minister Nitin Nabin, Jivesh Mishra, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, and Giriraj Singh. Also under consideration is Vivek Thakur, Rajya Sabha MP and son of C.P. Thakur, one of the tallest Bhumihar leaders.
Tejashwi Yadav’s Bhumihar outreach
Even as the BJP considers its next moves, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav has been making a concerted effort to woo Bhumihars, who at one time were staunchly united against his father, Lalu Prasad Yadav.
At the Parshuram Jayanti celebrations this month, he appealed to the “Parshuram samaj” (read: Bhumihars) to shower their blessings on him. Parshuram, believed to be among the 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu, has a large following among the Bhumihars.
पटना में आयोजित परशुराम जयंती समारोह को संबोधित किया।
हम समावेशी, सकारात्मक और प्रगतिशील राजनीति करते है। जिसमें सबका सहयोग और हिस्सेदारी रहे। हम Positive, Progressive और Scientific सोच के व्यक्ति है। हम सबने साथ बढ़ना है अन्यथा बिहार पीछे रह जाएगा। एकता में ही शक्ति है। pic.twitter.com/D1vwZih7vj
— Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) May 3, 2022
“Anyone can make a mistake,” Tejashwi told the gathering, “but an opportunity should be given to correct it.” The reference, clearly, was to a fraught period in the 1990s when the Bhumihars were allegedly targeted by his father Lalu Prasad Yadav’s regime.
Tejashwi also mentioned that the RJD had given tickets for the MLC elections to five Bhumihar leaders, three of whom won.
Bhumihars’ shifting allegiances
Bhumihars consider themselves an extension of the Brahmin community, but are distinguished by their occupation of farming.
There has been no caste census after 1931, but the Bhumihars are counted among the upper castes that reportedly comprise 11 to 12 per cent of the state’s population. The community has a substantial presence in Begusarai, Muzaffarpur, Nawada, Munger, and Vaishali.
Despite their modest numbers, they are considered the landed gentry in Bihar, and wield influence disproportionate to their numerical strength.
Notably, the first chief minister of Bihar, Congressman Sri Krishna Sinha, belonged to the Bhumihar caste. The community backed the Congress staunchly for decades, but that changed in the 1990s.
The turbulent decade witnessed a spurt of massacres, allegedly perpetrated by Maoists against landlords. The Lalu-Rabri regime also positioned itself against the relatively prosperous land-owning community. According to reports from the time, there was “widespread suspicion” that the Yadavs had engineered the massacres due to Bhumihars’ stand against reservation.
It was during this period that a private Bhumihar militia called the Ranvir Sena took birth, led by Barmeshwar Mukhiya, and also allegedly orchestrated massacres, especially against Dalits.
The Congress, by then, had shifted closer to the RJD, which the Bhumihars could not digest. At a time when the BJP’s footprint was getting bigger, the community transferred its loyalty to the up-and-coming party, which also had a tall Bhumihar leader, Kailashpati Mishra.
Between 1995 and the 2020 assembly polls, Bhumihars along with other upper castes have been with the BJP, but equations are now changing.
“What has happened in the past was quite brutal, but it is no longer part of the public memory for the new generations of Bhumihars. Not only have they not witnessed the massacres, but for them, RJD is no longer just Lalu Yadav but Tejashwi too. With the RJD leader publicly announcing making amends, things can change for the BJP,” a BJP leader, requesting anonymity, said.
A Bhumihar leader told ThePrint that while the community played a pivotal role in the BJP’s rise to power, it can also damage the party — something witnessed in the bypolls and MLC elections.
“A section of the BJP is under the wrong impression that Bhumihars and upper caste voters don’t have any other alternative, and hence even if they want to, they will not align with the RJD. There is a generational shift that has occurred and new alignments will come into play. The way representation of Bhumihars by the BJP in electoral politics has been reduced over a period of time is something that can’t be ignored,” the leader added.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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