An onion field at Ranipur ke Chak village, one of the 46 hamlets comprising the Jalla (marshy) area. Picture by Nalin Verma
Shravan Kumar, a 30-year-old Yadav farmer of Ranipur ke Chak, is the first graduate in his family.
He is also the first who has decided to make the political shift: his vote will not go to Lalu Prasad, but to Narendra Modi.
“Modi is strong, he will tackle Pakistan well,” Shravan says by way of explanation. “Aankh me aankh dalke baat karenge, he will lock eyes with our enemies while dealing with them. If the heads of our soldiers are cut, Modiji has promised to retaliate.”
Modi is asking for the development vote, but for Shravan and his peers, the USP is his image as a man who can be firm with “enemies”.
“Development, naukri, koi nahin dega, sab ek baat bolte hain. Everyone talks of development and jobs, but does precious little,” says Alok Kumar, also in his twenties.
But the two young men make it very clear: their vote is for Modi and not for Shatrughan Sinha, the unpopular sitting BJP MP from Patna Sahib constituency who was renominated after much debate within the party. His prime challenger is the RJD-backed Congress candidate, Kunal Singh, a Bhojpuri actor who has added his caste — he is a Yadav — to his name just for campaigning.
For decades, Shravan’s family and clan members in Ranipur ke Chak, a village of about 150 backward caste families about 35km east of Patna, have voted for Lalu Prasad. The village is one of 46 in the Jalla area — so named because of its water bodies — that has a large concentration, about 70 per cent, of Yadavs.
Its seniors like Dilip Kumar, 47, a farmer who owns five bighas of land that grows in the main onions and potato, and a concrete house, are still wary of Modi, though. “Laluji thik hai,” says Dilip Kumar. The RJD chief is himself barred from contesting elections because of his fodder scam conviction.
Modi, across his rallies in Bihar, has been soliciting the Yadav vote (about 15 per cent of the total electorate), invoking “Dwarkadhish” (Lord Krishna, who belonged to the Yaduvanshis). At the same time, Dilip Kumar admits that Yadavs are being “swayed” by Modi, and also by alleged financial and material gratification by BJP poll managers to press the button next to the phool (the BJP’s lotus symbol).
But it’s not all about security or development. At the surface lies the latent feeling that Modi will be a Prime Minister for “Hindus”. “Ab tak sab PMs kuch nahin kiye Hindu-oon ke liye, Modi-ji Hindu ka PM honge, Modi will be a Prime Minister for Hindus,” says Shravan.
Modi has been assiduously trying to build his campaign around the development and performance plank, but beneath the surface, a polarisation on religious lines is taking shape across Bihar. Part of this is owing to the fact that the RSS used the time when the BJP was in power with the Janata Dal(United) in the state to build and spread its organisational network across Bihar’s hinterlands. The Sangh cadres, the backbone of the BJP’s organisation, have assiduously cultivated the image of Modi as a strong man who can ensure a secure India and will take care of Hindus.
Reports from the ground after the first phase of polls on April 10 in parts of south and central Bihar indicate that Muslims, fearful of this polarisation in favour of Modi, are unifying behind Lalu Prasad.
The loser, ironically, is expected to be chief minister Nitish Kumar, who broke off his alliance with the BJP over Narendra Modi in his bid to woo the 16.5 per cent Muslim electorate.
The generation divide among the Yadavs over Modi is palpable in Pataliputra as well from where Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti is contesting against the BJP’s Ram Kripal Yadav, once her father’s trusted lieutenant.
Sukhdev Yadav, 65, has been a labourer all his life and resides in a slum, Neelkanth Tola, which has no roads to speak of. “No leader has done anything for us. However, we have been voting for Lalu and will continue to do so,” he says, recalling that Misa, like Lalu, had to call the villagers to the main road as their vehicles can’t enter the place.
However, the youths do not share the unflinching support offered to Lalu. “We would like to support a government which can give us jobs and keep the prices of food down,” says Mahesh Yadav, 20. “We will vote Narendra Modi,” he stresses, furtively glancing at his family elders who wore an amused look.
If Modi is chiselling away at Lalu’s Yadav votebank, especially the young electorate (Bihar has over 4 lakh first-time voters this time), he is also hitting Nitish where it hurts.
The neighbours of young farmer Shravan Kumar at Ranipur ke Chak — the village is also an example of how different castes, with varying political allegiances, have lived in harmony in socialist Bihar — are Kurmis, part of the backward classes which formed the backbone of Nitish Kumar’s social engineering that toppled Lalu in 2005.
But the Kurmis are still undecided which way they will vote on Thursday. “Dekhte hain, let’s see,” says Chandra Bhushan Singh, a Kurmi farmer. Had it been the Assembly poll, his choice would have been a no-brainer.
Kurmis, he says, are still with Nitish for the state elections. “Par ye toh Centre ka mamla hain, usme kshetriya parties kuch nahin kar sakte. Phir chunao karne parenge do saal ke baad, (No point voting for regional parties (read JD-U) in a central election. Else, we will have to call fresh elections after two years)” says Chandra Bhushan, who doesn’t know his age but says he is in his “fifties”.
It is this dilemma among his core votebank that should cause Nitish to worry. In vast swathes across Bihar, the buzz is that EBCs are switching to Modi, albeit for the Lok Sabha battle, since Nitish had been ambivalent, if not dismissive, of any role at the Centre.
Patna Sahib and Pataliputra vote on April 17