The folklore about Chuhar Mal (also known as Baba Chuhar Mal) evokes divergent reactions in some parts of Bihar. While the Dalits idolise him, the reaction from the upper caste often borders on hostile. Legend goes that Chuhar Mal - a Dalit by birth - fell in love with Reshma, a girl with upper caste underpinnings. Like most love stories, this too had a predictably sad ending. The intercaste marriage was vehemently opposed by the village elders. The folk tale has since been adapted by artistes, and street plays have borrowed from it. If what reports say is true, the actor playing the character of Chuhar Mal was even shot at while the play was being staged at a wedding in the late 70s.
Baba Chuhar Mal's birthday is observed every year by the BJP. In April this year, the party office in Patna celebrated the birth anniversary of the Dalit hero. Chuhar Mal is one of the many legends the BJP has adopted as part of its new social engineering plan.
Emperor Ashoka is another great whose 2320th birth anniversary was celebrated in May this year. According to reports, the party officials gathered under the umbrella of the Rashtravadi Kushwaha Parishad (RKP) to celebrate the Mauryan emperor's birth anniversary and project him as a member of the Kushwaha community. In terms of sheer numerical strength, the Kushwahas are second only to the Yadavs among other backward classes (OBCs) whose votes are considered crucial in elections.
Other than Chuhar Mal and Ashoka, the BJP has also embraced figures like Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, eminent Hindi writer, former Chief Minister Karpoori Thakur, Ravidas, a social reformer with significant following among Dalits, Maharana Pratap, the 16th century rule of Mewar, and Kunwar Singh, a feudal lord who took part in the 1857 mutiny against the British Raj.
Political observers say that the adoption of these figures is aimed at sending the right signal to different sections of society. "The BJP leaders have taken part in a number of caste conclaves in the state. The focus is clearly on targeting votes of Dalits and extreme backward classes (EBCs). Also, they want to make sure that the party's core support base among upper castes does not go adrift," argues a Patna-based senior journalist of a Hindi daily, requesting anonymity. Officially though, the party maintains that there is nothing wrong with celebrating the achievements of the "great sons of Bihar".
"Everything should not be seen through the prism of votebank politics," says BJP's state unit leader Lal Babu Prasad. Political observers, however, say that the fact that there has been a sharp increase in caste conclaves ahead of elections and that BJP leaders have actively taken part in them is indicative of a new social engineering plan. "It cannot be a coincidence. Out of nowhere, Ashoka is being projected as someone who belonged to the Kushwaha community. It is immaterial whether history corroborates such a projection or not. Similarly, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, who belonged to an influential upper caste, has suddenly been rediscovered," the Patna-based journalist observes.
Incidentally, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP's impressive show in the state is attributed to the party's growing clout among upper castes and EBCs. According to a Centre of the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) survey, the party amassed nearly 78 per cent upper caste and 53 per cent EBC votes. The party and its allies won a sizeable section of Dalit votes as well.
Other than the new social engineering plan, the BJP is banking on the tried-and-tested formula of "micromanagement." "You will notice that the senior leaders of our party are not here holding meetings at party headquarters. Most of them are convening meetings at assembly levels throughout the state," says Prasad. He and other state unit leaders told this reporter that more than half the 243 assembly seats in the state have already been covered.
The second phase of campaigning is set to begin on July 10. In August, the party is set to launch more than 100 "video raths," showcasing the achievements of the BJP-led government at the Centre. The party is also collating feedback from all assembly seats on local issues, and may announce a manifesto for each assembly constituency. Other than the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) volunteers too are touring villages gathering feedback on issues and candidate profiles.
"The World Yoga Day celebration afforded a fine opportunity to the RSS volunteers. They were seen organising celebrations at many places. Through these activities, they collected phone numbers and other contact details. These will be used in the run-up to the elections," says another Patna-based journalist of English daily.
POINTS OF STRATEGY
BJP is holding many caste conclaves in Bihar ahead of elections
Figures like Chuhar Mal, Emperor Ashoka, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar and Maharana Pratap have been embraced by the party
The focus is on targeting votes of Dalits andEBCs, while keeping the upper caste support intact
- BJP claims that everything should not be seen through the prism of votebank politics