PATNA -- In a bid to counter the 'Mandal' politics of the Grand Alliance in the Bihar assembly polls, particularly Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad's pitch for 'backward versus upper caste fight', the BJP is playing the backward castes card.
In order to woo the Dalits, Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ruled out any 'sawarna' (upper caste) person becoming the Chief Minister if the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won two-thirds majority in the state polls.
With 'caste' factor, re-entrenched by recommendations of reservations by the Mandal Commission, again dominating the campaigning for Bihar polls, senior BJP leader and Union Minister Giriraj Singh said that the next Bihar Chief Minister would be either from the Dalits, OBCs or EBCs and not an upper caste.
"An upper caste cannot become the Chief Minister of Bihar; it is certain that if the BJP-led NDA comes to power, the next Chief Minister will be either from the OBCs or EBCs," the Union Minister - who belongs to the powerful and landed Bhumihar upper caste with a strong presence in the state politics - told the media in Patna.
The BJP leader played this 'backward caste Chief Minister card' two days after RJD chief Lalu Prasad said that the Bihar assembly polls were a fight between the backward and forward castes.
The BJP leader's statement reflected the ground reality in Bihar and sent out a political message to OBCs and EBCs, who constitute around 50 per cent of the voters in the state. He said the upper castes were only keen for the development of Bihar.
"Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar should not worry about the upper castes; they should play their caste politics to create divide and hatred in society," Mr Singh remarked.
Interestingly, going by the NDA list of candidates for the Bihar polls, it is clear that the party is essentially relying on the upper castes in the five-phased elections.
Of the 243 seats in the assembly, the four NDA parties have given tickets to 85 upper caste candidates, including 36 Rajputs and 28 Bhumihars, in the light of the fact that upper castes constitute approximately 14 to 15 per cent of the Bihar population.
On the other hand, the Grand Alliance of the JD-U, RJD and the Congress has fielded 64 Yadavs - 48 of them by the RJD alone - apart from 33 Muslims. It reflects Mr Lalu Prasad's faith in his traditional social support base of MY (Muslim-Yadav).
The Grand Alliance is also relying heavily on the OBCs Koeris and Kurmis. Thirty Koeris and 17 Kurmis, who are Mr Nitish Kumar's caste men, have been fielded by the Grand Alliance.
The NDA has not declared its Chief Ministerial candidate and BJP president Amit Shah and other senior leaders have repeatedly said that the chief minister-to-be will be decided after the polls.
According to political observers here, despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for ending caste-based politics in Bihar, a deep-rooted tussle in the BJP between leaders of the upper and other backward castes during the assembly polls has put the BJP in a dilemma.
Perhaps realising the problem, Mr Modi and party president Amit Shah are taking steps to ensure that none of these leaders is allowed to dominate the public discourse till the elections end, fearing it may anger either of the groups and thereby lead to erosion of the party's social support base.
In the caste-ridden Bihar politics, over half a dozen BJP leaders from the upper castes and the backward castes have staked claims to the Chief Ministerial chair. "All of them are lobbying hard," a BJP leader said.