Muslims (16.5%) and Mahadalits (10%) account for more than one-fourth of population of Bihar. This is sizeable and may decide the fate of the polls scheduled in the state in October-November this year. These two communities have the ability to influence results of 80 odd seats, almost one-third of the total seats.
Muslims in the state have been traditional vote bank of Lalu’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress. Mahadalits (10%) is a new caste category created by Nitish including some erstwhile SC/ST categories and some other lower OBCs. Mahadalits were traditional supporters of Lalu-Congress-Paswan earlier and shifted to Nitish after he created this category providing them reservation for jobs.
The voter turnout among Muslims and Mahadalits is usually higher than the average turnout in polls (this is the general perception) that’s why these two categories are very important from results point of view. Whichever party wins majority of the seats here, may turn out to win the elections.
85% of Muslims voted for Janata alliance (64% RJD & 21% JDU) in Lok Sabha polls in May 2014. Only 2% voted for BJP. 42% of Mahadalits voted for BJP alliance while 30% for Janata alliance (20% for JDU and 10% for RJD) in Lok Sabha polls. It is to be noted that RJD and JDU fought Lok Sabha polls separately.
While Muslims are expected to polarise towards Janata led grand alliance, Mahadalits could polarise towards Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) because of presence of Manjhi in their fold.
There are 7 districts (around 40 seats) where Mahadalit population is higher than 10% (average population in the state) and this is where they could play an important role. These districts are Gaya (19%), Nawada (17.5%), Jehanabad (17.3%), Kaimur (14.8%), Aurangabad (12.3%), Madhepura (10.6%) and Jamui (11.2%).
There are 7 districts (40 odd seats) where Muslim population is higher than 20% and this is where they may play a clinching role. These districts are Katihar (42.5%), Purnia (36.7%), Araria (41.1%), Kishanganj (67.6%), Darbhanga (22.7%), Paschim Champaran (21.2%) and Sitamarhi (21.1%).
Lalu and Congress on an average have won more than half of the Muslim community influential seats in 1990, 1995 and 2000 elections as shown in chart below. This propelled Lalu to form successive governments in Bihar.
In 2005, Paswan broke away from Lalu and fought elections alone. This led to split of Muslim votes. This along with other factors reduced Lalu’s share of Muslim seats to 31% and helped JDU-BJP combine to end Lalu’s 15 years of jungle raj. Muslims who voted for Lalu reduced from 48% in 2000 elections to 36% in 2005. Most of this was grabbed by Paswan whose party bagged 15% Muslim vote share. More than half of the Muslim dominated seats were won by JDU-BJP combine which went onto form the government.
In 2010, Lalu broke alliance with Congress and paid a hefty price. JDU bagged 21% and Congress 22% of Muslim vote. RJD faced challenges in constituencies where it faced JDU candidates. This meant Lalu’s party could capture only 33% of the Muslims influenced seats and was battered badly winning only 22 seats in total.
Chart: % of Muslims influenced seats won by various parties
Lalu and Congress won more than half of the Mahadalits influential seats in 1990, 1995 and 2000 elections as shown in the chart below. This propelled Lalu to form successive governments in Bihar.
In 2005, Paswan broke away from Lalu and fought elections alone. This led to split of Dalits vote. This along with other factors reduced Lalu’s share of Dalits seats to 29% and helped JDU-BJP combine to end Lalu’s 15 years of jungle raj. Dalits who voted for Lalu reduced from 27% in 2000 elections to 17% in 2005. Most of this was grabbed by Paswan whose party bagged 28% Dalits vote share. More than half of Dalits dominated seats were won by JDU-BJP combine which went onto form the govt. It is noted that Mahadalit category was not created at that time and was embedded with Dalits category.
In 2010, Lalu broke alliance with Congress and partnered with Paswan. Nitish during this tenure created the Mahadalit category and offered them sops except for Dusadhs to which caste Paswan belongs. Resultantly 45% Mahadalits voted for BJP-JDU and they bagged 85% of these seats leading to a sweep (206 / 243 seats).
Chart: % of Mahadalits influenced seats won by various parties
The trend clearly shows that these two caste categories could well decide the fate of 2015 assembly polls. They are seen to have voted in tandem during 1990-2010 polls. 2015 elections however pose a challenge to the trend. While Muslims overwhelmingly are expected to vote for Janata grand alliance, Mahadalits are expected to side with BJP led NDA as Paswan’s LJP (Lok Janashakti Party) and Manjhi’s HAM (Hindustani Awam Morcha) party are in NDA.
As indicated in my previous article on impact of Owaisi in Bihar polls, he could pose a threat to Janata alliance Muslim vote bank in 25 odd seats where their population is maximum.
A villager from Sasaram which has a decent Muslim population says,
“Muslims vote are easily transferable. They will vote for Nitish-Lalu-Congress combine. They don’t have a choice. However, if Owaisi puts up candidates there could be a split. Muslim representation is far lesser (only 19 MLAs) compared to their population and this could be played up by Owaisi.”
A Brahmin farmer in a South Bihar village opines,
“It’s very important how Mahadalits vote. While Paswan has a track record of attracting Dalit votes, Manjhi doesn’t have any track record. Is he the champion of Mahadalits? BJP is banking too much on this horse! Only time will tell if he succeeds in garnering their support.”
Can Manjhi tilt the scale in BJP’s favour? Can Muslims ensure Lalu-Nitish victory in Bihar? We will get the answer to these questions in a couple of months from now….
This article has been written exclusively for niticentral.com