Caste is a very confused-with word in india. It denotes identity thus giving expression to a certain culture, system and at the same time it epitomises the social evils when we start following caste system. In urban india, the fault lines are more on the class-caste lines whereas in rural parts it is more caste-class lines. Whichever way we see it, caste does have a presence.
The elections in a democracy are about representation of the people and their choice. So one will identify most with is a person with whom he has common social tidings. This commonality is generally on a shared ancestry, shared social treatment, same community or family. This is how caste enters democratic politics as it forms a basis of belief that the person elected from a specific caste understands the challenges of that social milieu.
Another string that runs common in this narrative is poverty which presents a common social milieu to a mix bag of population irrespective of the region, religion, caste etc.; it becomes the class factor.
Thus, poverty is the larger set in which caste will become the subset or the deeper identification tag. So our representative should have an empathetic view to the socio economic scenario and should be of the same community as well. Such a person will work towards development for all and at the same time for his specific community as well. This is how the caste identity politics finds expression in a development led democratic setup.
In Bihar, the situation finds a perfect setting:
- in the Human Development Index ranking 2018, it is the least ranked state amongst all the states and union territories in india.
- As per the report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (released on 7 January 2020), Bihar has the lowest NSDP per capita (INR at Current prices)Rs .43,822 in FY 2018-19, the national average being Rs. 1,35,050/- per annum.
- In the SDG poverty index, released by NITI AAyog, Bihar has plummeted by 12 points to be the second last in the rankings, just above Jharkhand.
- The caste breakup is yadavs 12%, Kurmis 6%, Kushwaha 8%, extremely backward classes 26%, mahadalits 15%, forward caste 15%, Muslims 16.9%.
Thus, it is socially backward, underdeveloped, 33.74% population below poverty line and divided into various castes with no clear majority to any specific group.
In Bihar the political parties have finally chosen their sides. The JD(U) and BJP combine are in power. LJP of late Ram Vila’s Paswan has left the coalition to contest independently. The other half is RJD, congress and small left parties. Then there are numerous small caste based parties which give the elections the twist as they are the floating votes. Throw in AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi in alliance with Mayawati’s BSP and it gives the identity politics its complete flavour.
The LJP has been termed as a vote katua, a term meaning that it will vie for the same vote share as that of the JD(U). For the BJP, this helps as it has been sidelined by its senior ally in the coalition for some time now. Using LJP against JD(U) is the best example of this cast based voting behaviour.
This time the ticket distribution indicates that the parties are trying to consolidate their own identity based social group and at the same time, trying to appeal to others outside their traditional vote base. Hence everyone talks development but keeping the caste play in mind.
As there is no clear majority of any specific caste, coalition is the only way out for the “like minded parties”. This leads to parties jumping sides based on the votes that they have been able to garner. In a way, it is true elections as everyone has a chance to become a part of the government keeping a gate open for horse trading !
Not even the US presidential election has as many layers as the Bihar elections in india. It is truly a microcosm of the larger election climate in india. This is the great Bihari election.