Can PM Narendra Modi’s Rs 1.25 lakh crore promise to Bihar touch chords across caste lines?

Patna, Amita Shah, Manan Kumar: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a Rs 1.25 lakh crore package for poll-bound Bihar, surpassing the expectations of even several state leaders of the BJP, he took the party’s development pitch to a thundering applause in an outreach beyond caste lines.


Announcing the package at Arrah, Modi promised a “sea change”, fast-tracking development projects, upgrading skills of youth and creating employment, as he sought to change the political narrative from caste to the aspirational voter. The BJP-led NDA is hoping that the development slogan will help in countering the caste-ridden politics in the state as it takes on the alliance led by chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Yet, Bihar’s BJP leaders have the caste mathematics on the tips of their fingers and vouch that it goes in the NDA’s favour in elections later this year. At the same time, they refute that the election will be dominated by caste equations saying Modi’s rallies were testimony to the development plank having a sway, particularly among the youth.

“Bihar is also an aspirational society. There is great yearning for change and good governance. There is a good number of people who have gone above the conventional caste equations,” said Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Modi’s package, covering sectors like farmers’ welfare, education, skill development, health, electricity, rural roads, highways, railways, airports, digital Bihar, petroleum and tourism has denied the chief minister of a key plank and tried to reach out to a wider audience.

But, all said and done, BJP leaders in the state have got down to the brass tacks of calculating the caste affiliations, which tyrannise the Bihar polls. The party is focusing on extremely backward castes and dalits. Besides, in its bid to poach into Lalu Prasad Yadav’s vote bank, it was planning to field around 40 Yadav candidates, the highest ever on BJP ticket. sources said.

There are around 16 per cent scheduled caste votes, of which mahadalit would be 13 per cent. The BJP is reaching out to this section, with Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi in the NDA fold, to compensate for the 17 per cent Muslim vote which is expected to go to the rival camp. Besides this, the BJP was banking on the votes of the 15 per cent upper caste, which included Brahmin, Thakur, Kayastha and Bhumihar.

Sources said the party was organising caste sammelans to connect with all communities. In its bid to poach into Lalu Prasad Yadav’s vote bank, the BJP was fielding around 40 Yadav candidates.

While Modi himself has stuck to the development slogan, the BJP is highlighting his Teli background to win over voters from the community. The Nitish Kumar government had recently included the caste in the EBC category.

Close on the heels of Modi’s big ticket announcement of special package, Nitish Kumar hit back. “Was he (Modi) in an auction? Was he bidding for Bihar? The way Modiji announced the package it made it look like that an auction of Bihar was being held and bids being made.”

Accusing him of doing politics of contempt that went against cooperative federalism, Kumar said, “On the one hand he says I was a ‘Yachak’ (person pleading for doles) and on the other hand he accuses me of having arrogance. It’s contradictory. I am willing to plead with the Centre for the cause of Bihar. He is the prime minister and can say whatever he wishes.”

Picking holes in Modi’s special package, Kumar said proposals for many of them were already pending with Centre and many others were already committed by the central dispensation. “There is nothing new. They have to give it. They are not doing any favour,” he said.

Firing a salvo at Modi over Bihar’s ‘Bimaru’ status, Kumar asked if all states given special packages in the past were ‘Bimaru’, an acronym used for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

Both Kumar and Yadav tweeted soon after Modi finished his speech.

Kumar released a Digital campaign #BloneMeinKyaJataHai and #JumlaBabu on Twitter that shows a caricatured Modi promising people on various issues like Black money, Achchhe Din, depreciating Rupee, giving jobs to youth, OROP in 100 days etc.

“Promises, big bang announcements & packaging. Little actions & no delivery on ground. No wonder increasingly people says #BolneMeinKyaJataHai,” said Kumar in his tweet introducing the caricatured Modi as #JumlaBabu.

Lalu said, “The special package is same like the deadly assurance he gave of depositing Rs. 15 lakh in everyone’s account. Another political jumla for people of Bihar by Jumla Babu.”