The so-called upper castes dominate the list of 70 candidates fielded by the Congress party for the upcoming Bihar assembly elections, but the grand old party has given a good share of tickets to Dalits and Muslims, in a bid to win back its traditional mixed vote bank in the state.

The party has fielded 33 upper castes, of which Bhumihar are 11, Brahmin and Rajputs nine each, and Kayasthas four. The party has also given tickets to 13 Dalits and 12 Muslims in the state. These castes and religious groups had formed a winning combination for the Congress in Bihar till the emergence of backward caste politics in 1990s.

“We have returned to our winning combination, and are confident of putting up a good show in the coming elections,” said a Congress functionary.

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Of the remaining candidates, 11 are from the other backward classes (OBCs)—who constitute 51% of Bihar’s 105-million population as per the 2011 census. Of the OBC candidates, five are Yadavs, three belong to the Vaish (Bania) community, two are Kurmis, and one is from Koeri community. The party has also fielded one candidate from the scheduled tribes (STs).

Uppers castes which form 15% population of the state, have the highest share in seats. Of the four upper castes, Brahmins form about 5% state population, Bhumihars constitute nearly 5%, Rajputs around 4% and Kayasthas over 1%.

While Muslims account for around 16.9% population of Bihar, the state has a Dalit population of 16%.

As constituents of the Grand Alliance or mahagathbandhan, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is fighting on 144 seats, Congress 70 and the Left parties 29.

Jagannath Mishra was the last Congress chief minister in Bihar in 1990, and since then the grand old party has been reduced to the margins in the state with its political graph declining rapidly.

The late 1990s also saw the rise of backward caste leaders such as Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar, and Sharad Yadav due to Mandal politics (in the aftermath of the Mandal Commission report which gave 27% reservations in government jobs for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

While the upper castes sided with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the wake of the Ram Temple movement, the OBCs, Muslims, and Dalits shifted their allegiance to different regional parties such as the RJD, the Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

In the past three decades, Congress worked with different combinations of caste and religious groups as part of its organisational restructuring to not only check the erosion of its support base but also see to ensure its resurgence. But all such attempts failed to help the party to regain its lost glory. It has been riding piggy-back on the RJD in the last few elections.

Patna-based political analyst Professor Ajay Kumar Jha said Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits were once the traditional vote banks of the grand old party, but moved away from it with the emergence of Mandal-kamandal politics (Kamandhal refers to an oblong water pot used by sadhus and the term is often used to describe the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Hindutva politics). “Congress’ vote bank has eroded in Bihar over the years, and it depends largely on RJD to register some gains. It is also very difficult to say that traditional vote banks of Congress will come back to the party with the new strategy,” he added.

In its list of 70 candidates, the Congress has not shied away from giving tickets to the kin of senior politicians.

Among them are Shubhanand Mukesh, son of Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader Sadhanand Singh, former BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha’s son Luv Sinha, rebel Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav’s daughter Subhashini Raj Rao, Mithilesh Choudhary, a relative of cricketer-turned-politician Kirti Azad and former chief minister Abdul Ghafoor’s grandson Asif Ghafoor.

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