Ignored for long by OBC-centric parties during the post-Mandal era, privileged-caste leaders appear to be back in circulation in Bihar. A Bhumihar MP, Rajiv Ranjan Singh aka Lalan Singh (in pic with CM Nitish Kumar), has become the first privileged-caste leader to be appointed national president of the ruling JD(U). Lalan was chosen even though former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha—an OBC leader from the Koeri caste, who had merged his Rashtriya Lok Samata Dal earlier this year with JD(U) and was made its parliamentary board chairman—was widely tipped to replace R.C.P. Singh as the national president. Political observers believe Nitish made the decision because Lalan was pipped to the post by RCP in the race for the solitary berth given to JD(U) in the Narendra Modi government. Lalan’s supporters had apparently blamed RCP, a Kurmi like Nitish, for the denial of ministerial berth to their leader. RCP is now Union minister for steel.
Kurmi and Koeri, the two dominant OBC castes called the ‘Luv-Kush of Bihar politics’, had joined forces to lend support to Nitish in his bid to dislodge Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD government from power in 2005. Nitish was expected to hand over the party’s baton to Kushwaha to consolidate his base in the two communities. But that was not to be. Lalan was elevated to the post despite the fact that Bhumihars have been known to be die-hard BJP supporters, especially during the Nitish era.
In recent years, parties such as RJD have been trying to rise above Mandal politics by giving key party positions to privileged-caste leaders. Lalu had handpicked his long-time loyalist and former Rajput MP Jagdanand Singh some time ago to be the state president of RJD, apparently to woo his caste men. The Congress has also reposed its faith in a Brahmin leader, Madan Mohan Jha, who remains the Bihar Pradesh Congress Committee president despite his failure to revive the party in the state.
Nevertheless, the elevation of privileged-caste leaders in parties that draw their strength from OBC politics has not been without hiccups. Lalan is already facing the ire of RCP’s supporters, who have not given him space on the posters that have sprung up in Patna ahead of his return to Bihar on August 16. It is, however, not surprising since RCP’s face and name were also missing on the posters put up by Lalan’s supporters earlier this week. Lalan also had to call on Kushwaha, apparently to assuage his feelings on his return from Delhi.
Nitish denies any rift in the party, saying RCP himself proposed the name of Lalan for national president. Lalan and Kushwaha have also reiterated that both of them are working to strengthen the party under Nitish’s leadership. But the Opposition is already pointing at the fissures in the upper echelons of JD(U). RJD leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav says that while Nitish has always ditched the Kushwaha community, the RJD had always given it its due.
Meanwhile, the RJD is also facing issues over Jagdanand’s leadership. Lalu’s older son Tej Pratap Yadav misses no opportunity to take pot-shots at him. There were reports about Jagdanand quitting his post a few months ago, but he apparently chose to stay because of his unwavering loyalty towards Lalu.
(This appeared in the print edition as "Uneasy Rise of Bihar’s Savarnas")