Although there is no getting away from the caste factor in poll-bound Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata Party is essentially banking on two major issues in this crucial assembly election: the Modi card and the communal card.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets ready to storm Bihar with a series of high-voltage public meetings in the run-up to the first phase of elections, the party is attempting to create a communal divide to consolidate the Hindu vote.
The debate on cow slaughter, triggered by last week’s lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s statement that Hindus also eat beef, has provided the BJP the right opening to play its communal card.
So as the prime minister talks about development in his speeches, the party’s foot soldiers wiill attempt to pin down Lalu Prasad Yadav and keep the situation taut. The BJP’s strategists have decided to use the RJD leader’s remarks to emphasise how he had betrayed the Yadav community, which worships the cow, by talking about beef.
Changing the narrative
Even the otherwise moderate BJP leader Sushil Modi raised the pitch on this issue. “For votes, Lalu can even eat beef,” Sushil Modi tweeted. “He has insulted crores of gopalaks [cow grazers].” He further promised that the BJP would enact a law to ban cow slaughter if it is voted to power in Bihar. His statement is obviously aimed at creating a Hindu-Muslim divide, because Bihar already has had such a law since 1955.
Having been put on defensive by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent interview seeking a review of caste-based reservations, the BJP obviously wants to change the political narrative after the RJD chief used this to portray the saffron outfit as a party of the upper castes.
As the election campaign picks up momentum in the coming days, the BJP’s highly-motivated workers, especially those drawn from the RSS, will be effectively deployed to raise the emotional pitch on cow slaughter and other religious issues. Having helped deliver a blockbuster victory for the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections, the RSS cadres are all charged up as they have been told that this is an ideal opportunity for them to propagate the Sangh’s Hindutva ideology.
The RSS obviously believes it should take full advantage of the situation to push its agenda, especially when the BJP has a clear majority in Parliament and is not handicapped by demanding allies. As a result, every incident of a Hindu girl eloping with a Muslim boy or a rumour about beef being consumed is immediately given a communal colou,r as witnessed in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and now in Dadri.
Mandal vs kamandal
However, the jury is still out on whether the BJP’s communal card will work in Bihar as the state has proved immune to such religious polarisation in the past. Even in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition when communal passions were at a peak, in Bihar, Mandal had prevailed over kamandal ‒ backward caste issues over Hindutva.
Caste remains the dominant factor in Bihar and people identify themselves with political parties which represent them and espouse their cause. The BJP is clearly taking the communal route to paper over these caste loyalties to consolidate the majority community.
“The BJP is obviously not sure about its caste-combination and so it wants to introduce emotive issues to woo the voters,” remarked a Bihar Congress leader.
Maintaining that such a polarisation is not possible in Bihar as in Uttar Pradesh, he said the communal card works when the Congress and the BJP are pitted against each other but not when caste loyalties come into play. Nevertheless, there is a lurking fear in the Janata Dal (U)-Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress combine that the BJP’s religious card could attract women and undecided floating voters.
Janata Dal (U) spokesperson KC Tyagi was, however, quick to dismiss the BJP’s communal campaign, maintaining it will not work in Bihar as people have already decided who to vote for. “The BJP’s statements are a reflection of the party’s BJP’s growing frustration as it knows it is not going to win in Bihar,” he said. “In any case, Laluji has already apologised and the matter is over.”
On its part, the Congress decided to distance itself from the RJD chief’s remarks on eating beef by reminding the BJP that it was the Congress governments which brought laws banning cow slaughter which are currently in place in 25 states. “The BJP is not saying anything new,” party spokesperson Pramod Tiwari said, an indication of the Congress party’s decision to adopt the soft Hindutva approach to counter the BJP’s play for upper castes . Earlier, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh had spoken in the same vein although both leaders came down heavily on the BJP for using the Dadri incident to create communal tension for political gain.