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Caste eclipses Bihar pride in poll season

Patna, March 21: Bihar Divas, in an election year, is not about Biharis first any more. The caste is there for all to see.

Just three years ago, the slogan during a Bihar Divas function at Gandhi Maidan was “Garva Sey Kaho Hum Bihari Hai (Say with pride you are a Bihari)”. Chief minister Nitish Kumar and his then deputy, Sushil Kumar Modi, had said Bihari sub-nationalism should tide over caste.

But as the state celebrates a low-key Bihar Divas on Saturday, Bihari sub-nationalism has taken a back seat.

“Right now there are no Biharis. There are Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars, Yadavs, Kushwahas, EBCs, Mahadalits, Paswans and, of course, the Muslims,” said a senior state politician.

“There is no contradiction. I can belong to a particular caste and still be a proud Bihari. Just as being a proud Bihari does not contradict being a proud Indian,” Sushil Modi told The Telegraph, stressing that ground realities could not be ignored. “I have had an inter-religion marriage (his wife is Christian). But that does not take away the fact that I belong to a particular caste,” he said.

Every party is working on caste calculations. The BJP took in candidates like expelled JD(U) MP Sushil Kumar Singh because he belonged to the dominant Rajput caste in Aurangabad. Similarly, sitting Muzaffarpur MP Jai Narayan Nishad has an influence over the sizeable Nishads. Even former minister Renu Kushwaha’s husband Vijay Kumar Kushwaha was taken in as Kushwahas matter in Madhepura.

The BJP’s greatest “social engineering” came when LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan crossed over to the NDA. Paswans constitute six per cent of voters. The entry of RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha, too, is aimed at wooing a particular caste. The entry of Ram Kripal Yadav was aimed at giving the party a Yadav face.

The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, played the caste card in Muzaffarpur on March 11 when he declared his opponents could not tolerate a former tea-seller from a backward caste trying to become Prime Minister.

Nitish tried to keep the “Bihari pride” factor afloat by harping on the special category status issue. But it did not click and the party went back to caste. It included Kulhaiya Muslims — a substantial population in Purnea, Araria and Kishanganj — in the OBC list. He brought in former minister Shakuni Choudhary and his son Samrat Choudhary in the party to woo the Kushwahas.

The RJD never flirted with the “proud Bihari” idea. Lalu has gone along with his Muslim-Yadav base. But RJD too weaned away some JD(U) leaders for caste.

Clearly, the proud Bihari has ceased to exist for poli-tical parties.