2019 Lok Sabha polls: How Nitish Kumar is rejigging his Dalit strategy

Amitabh Srivastava
Amitabh SrivastavaApr 18, 2018 | 15:40

2019 Lok Sabha polls: How Nitish Kumar is rejigging his Dalit strategy

In politics and life, time changes everything. On April 14, when Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar dissolved the distinction between Dalits and Mahadalits by announcing that benefits of all welfare schemes run by the Mahadalit Vikas Mission will henceforth be applicable to all Scheduled Castes, it seemed like a clever revisiting of his decade-old Dalit-centric strategy.

“Now all schemes of the Mahadalit Vikas Mission will be for all Dalits. The arrangements for Mahadalits, be it "residential land" or any other thing, will be applicable for all Scheduled Castes,” Nitish said, flanked by Union ministers Ram Vilas Paswan, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Upendra Kushwaha along with deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi.


The announcement almost overturns Nitish Kumar’s 2007 decision when his government had picked 18 sub-castes (of the total 22 in Bihar) among the Scheduled Caste and categorised them as Mahadalits. Subsequently, the government added three more to the list, leaving only the Paswans or Dusadhs - the caste of Ram Vilas Paswan - out of the Mahadalit umbrella.

From left: Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, Chirag Paswan and Sushil Kumar Modi, in Patna. 

Nitish Kumar’s current announcement, in effect, means that the Paswans, so far excluded from the benefits extended to other Mahadalits, have been brought into the Mahadalit fold.

The Scheduled Castes population in Bihar is divided among 22 sub-castes. Of these, Paswans, the core voters of Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), accounts for nearly 4.5 per cent votes.

Paswan, Union minister in the UPA government in 2007, is still in the Union cabinet a decade later. But now he is in the NDA camp; and more importantly with Nitish Kumar.

For Paswan, Nitish’s announcement has come as a huge relief. Ever since Nitish rejoined the NDA, Paswan was under pressure from his people to get the Mahadalit tag to the Paswan community as well.


In 2007, Kumar’s Mahadalit initiative had turned out to be a political masterstroke. Then, a Mahadalit Commission was constituted to have a clear focus on the most marginalised among the Scheduled Castes.

As he assiduously worked for the Mahadalits, showering them with benefits of various government schemes, it created a new caste conglomerate in the Scheduled Caste block.

The administrative measures also triggered a complete shift of Mahadalit votes towards Nitish Kumar, contributing heavily towards his landslide victories in 2009 Lok Sabha and 2010 state Assembly polls.

Now with Lok Sabha elections just over a year ago, Nitish has clearly recalibrated his pro-Dalit strategy. The Dalit votes, which are about 15 per cent of Bihar electorates - almost as much as the Yadav votes have assumed crucial significance in view of next year’s Lok Sabha polls, which will be a bipolar contest unlike 2014 elections in Bihar where the JD(U), the BJP, the RJD and the Congress had contested separately and against each other.

With Jitan Ram Manjhi now joining Lalu Prasad’s camp, Nitish’s decision to extend Mahadalit benefits to Paswans may somewhat blunt, if not erase, the impact of Manjhi’s efforts. Although Nitish is still hailed by Dalits as the leader who cared for them - something that may limit Manjhi’s ability to polarise an entire lot of SC votes in favour of NDA - he is largely seen as someone who can take away the large chunk of his Musahar sub-caste (around 5.5 per cent of Bihar’s population) with him.


In a largely bipolar setup where Nitish combined with the BJP and Paswan for a large chunk of the Extremely Backward Caste, Kurmi, Paswan and upper caste votes, the RJD and the Congress with Manjhi may get a significant percentage of the Yadav, Muslim and Musahar votes.

In fact, it is the swing of Dalit or the rest of Mahadalit votes that is expected to be the key.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: April 18, 2018 | 16:33
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