Patna: With around six months to go for the Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is attempting to woo and mobilise the Yadavs in Bihar, a community that is largely aligned with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
On Govardhan Puja Tuesday, the BJP mobilised an estimated 20,000 members of the Yadav community from across the state to attend a function in Patna. It was organised by Union Minister of State Nityanand Rai and posters of virtually all Yadav leaders of the BJP were put up across the city. It was the first mega event organised by the BJP exclusively for Yadavs — a dominant OBC caste.
श्रीराम और श्रीकृष्ण के वंशज मिल जाएंगे,
भारत को भव्य बनाएंगे, भाजपा को जिताएंगे!
आज पटना के बापू सभागार में गोवर्धन पूजा के अवसर पर गोवर्धन महोत्सव सह यदुवंशियों का मिलन समारोह आयोजित किया गया। इस अवसर पर बिहार के इतिहास में एक साथ किसी पार्टी में इतने लोग शामिल हुए। रिकॉर्ड… pic.twitter.com/MIvJ38Rajy
— BJP Bihar (@BJP4Bihar) November 14, 2023
“There are two kinds of Yadavs — one hails Kansa (the mythological demon king) and the other follows Lord Krishna. Those who follow Lord Krishna are followers of PM Narendra Modi and his vision of development,” BJP’s deputy leader in the state legislative council Nawal Kishor Yadav told ThePrint.
Caste is being mixed with Sanatan Dharma. “RJD leaders have been repeatedly trying to demean Sanatan dharma like (Bihar) Education Minister Chandra Shekhar demeaning Ramcharitmanas, Around 70 percent of Yadavs in Bihar are vegetarians and stout followers of Sanatan Dharma. It is a wrong perception that Yadavs only vote for RJD. A significant number have voted for us,” Yadav further said.
The RJD meanwhile is mocking the BJP’s efforts to woo Yadavs. “The BJP Yadav leaders are like monkeys whose tails have been cut and want others to follow them. It will never happen as the Yadav caste has been largely associated with the socialist movement,” RJD spokesperson Shakti Singh Yadav told ThePrint.
Other RJD leaders who spoke to ThePrint explained the BJP’s move as an attempt at damage control because Union Home Minister Amit Shah had alleged, at a 5 November rally in Muzaffarpur district, that the caste survey of the Nitish Kumar government was manipulated in favour of Yadavs and Muslims.
The caste survey put the percentage of Yadavs in Bihar at more than 14 percent. It is a huge population that no political party can afford to ignore.
Yadav votes and their history
Before Lalu’s arrival in the political arena of Bihar in 1990, the loyalties of the Yadav caste were split. There were socialist leaders like B. P. Mandal and Congress leader late Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, also referred to as ‘Sher-e-Bihar’, who wielded substantial influence over Yadavs in Bihar.
However, after 1990, the Yadavs shifted their loyalty entirely to Lalu, especially after the Mandal Commission report. If Nitish Kumar and BJP were able to defeat Lalu in 2005, it was primarily due to the consolidation of non-Yadav backward castes.
Yadav leaders but not votes
The BJP has Yadav leaders in Bihar. Seven of its 78 MLAs in the state assembly belong to the caste, as do three of its 17 Lok Sabha MPs from the state. But overall, the Yadav votes have proved elusive for the party.
This is not the first time the BJP has made a bid for Yadav votes. In 2013, Narendra Modi, then the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, in his first speech at Gandhi Maidan declared that he had a natural claim over Yadav voters: “I come from the land of Dwarka (where Lord Krishna is believed to have lived),” he told the crowd. In 2015, the BJP had projected Nityanand Rai — the current Minister of State (Home Affairs) and the Yadav face of the party — as its state president. However, it did not change the fate of the BJP as far as Yadav voters are concerned.
A section of Yadavs in Bihar voted for the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. According to the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey for the 2019 polls, around 22 percent of the community in Bihar had voted for BJP, while the rest voted for the Grand Alliance.
“I have been an MLA from 1995 and have not been defeated in a seat which has substantial Yadav voters. The change we are making this time is to try to bring Yadavs as our party cadres,” said Nand Kishor Yadav.
However, even BJP leaders admit that most party MPs and MLAs have won on non-Yadav votes. “Nityanand Rai in Ujiarpur and Ram Kripal Yadav in Pataliputra got only a fraction of Yadav votes. It is only in Madhubani Ashok Yadav got majority of Yadav votes,” a senior BJP MLA told ThePrint, not wanting to be named.
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)