Patna: Concerned about the poor performance of the party in the recently-concluded state assembly elections, the Janata Dal (U) supremo and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is trying to consolidate its vote base of Kurmi and Koeri (Luv-Kush) and further strengthen its electoral base from other castes. The legislative tally of the JD (U) was reduced from 115 in 2010 to 43 in 2020 – fall of 72 seats in a decade.
To achieve his goal, the Bihar chief minister has relinquished the post of national president of the party and handed over the charge to RCP Singh, his trusted lieutenant and a Kurmi by caste. Simultaneously, former party MLA Umesh Kushwaha, a Koeri by caste, has been appointed as the state party president. The appointments are aimed at consolidating the Luv-Kush combination in favour of the party.
The backward community in Bihar is divided into two categories — Annexure 1 category called the extremely backward castes (EBCs) and Annexure 2 category called backward castes (BCs) — as per the classification approved by the state government for the purpose of providing reservation in government jobs. There are 113 castes in the Annexure 1 category and only four castes comprising Yadavs, Vaishyas, Kurmis and Koeris (Kushwaha) in the Annexure 2 category.
In Bihar, the Kurmis and Koeris are said to derive their lineage from Luv and Kush, the twin sons of the epical character Lord Rama, respectively. The Koeris are numerically preponderant with 8 percent of the votes. The Kurmis, the caste which Nitish Kumar belongs to, are less in number with approximately 2 percent of the votes. Together they constitute nearly 10 percent of the total votes in the state.
While the Kurmis are landowning farmers spread over Nalanda, Patna and adjoining districts of central Bihar, the Koeris are basically vegetable growers living in Munger, Banka, Khagaria, Samastipur, East Champaran, West Champaran and Bhojpur districts.
Ever since he severed ties with Lalu Prasad in 1993 and floated his own Samata Party, which later transformed into JD(U), Nitish Kumar has been meticulously and silently nurturing the Luv-Kush combination and also the associated sub-castes to expand his social base. He leveraged the Luv-Kush equation to garner non-Yadav backward caste votes. It was aimed at countering the Muslim-Yadav (MY) vote bank of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad.
But the Koeris later started drifting and cracks surfaced in the Luv-Kush vote bank when Upendra Kushwaha, a Koeri leader, broke away from Nitish Kumar and floated Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) in March 2013. In June 2013, Nitish quit the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over elevation of Narendra Modi as campaign committee chairman and later as its prime ministerial candidate.
The split between Nitish and Kushwaha had its impact on the outcome of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where the JD(U) won only two of the 40 parliamentary seats in Bihar. The JD(U) had fought the 2014 parliamentary polls in an alliance with the Communist Party of India (CPI). After breaking away from the JD(U), Kushwaha had joined the NDA bandwagon and won three Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
In a quick turn of events before the 2015 state assembly polls, Nitish joined hands with the RJD and won 71 seats as part of Grand Alliance. The Koeris along with Kurmis remained loyal to Nitish while Kushwaha could not garner much support and could win only two out of 23 assembly seats it contested as part of the NDA.
When Nitish returned to the NDA fold in 2017, Kushwaha faced rebellion in his party allegedly engineered by the JD(U) leader. He quit the NDA and joined the Grand Alliance before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. However, due to dismal performance in the parliamentary polls, Kushwaha was not given much weightage by the Grand Alliance during the 2020 assembly polls.
Kushwaha eventually formed an alliance with All India Majlees-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and others. He had fielded 40 per cent Koeri candidates out of the 104 seats it contested in 2020 assembly polls but drew a blank.
As Kushwaha vacillated from one alliance to the other in quick succession, the Koeris lost their trust in his leadership. The Koeris did not remain a solid caste group and the votes were divided among different political outfits including the BJP.
After the assembly polls results, the ruling JD (U) has been making attempts to bring Upendra Kushwaha into the party fold once again but there are many roadblocks before it materializes. He had met Nitish Kumar and defended the JD(U) leader on many occasions.
Nitish has been relentlessly fortifying his position by expanding his base beyond the Luv-Kush axis with new experiments. He intends to expand its support base among the EBCs and other caste groups including the upper castes as was the case in 2010.
In this connection, he has roped in the powerful Dhanuk community, which falls in the EBC (Annexure 1) category and constitutes nearly 5 percent of the vote share in the state. The Dhanuks claim their lineage from the Jaswar clan of the Kurmi community.
At present, the Koeris are facing a severe crisis of leadership. The RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha nourished chief ministerial ambitions but his wavering stand has put a question mark on his qualities to lead the community.
The BJP, which has been trying to rope in the Koeris, has put its weight behind Samrat Chaudhary, son of veteran Koeri leader Shakuni Chaudhary. The other leaders of the Koeri community in different political parties only play second fiddle to their leaders of different castes.
If the unity among Kurmis, Koeris and Dhanuks are cemented, they can form a powerful political force to reckon with and help any formation to win considerable seats.
The Koeris and Kurmis along with Yadavas were part of the Triveni Sangh, a socio-political outfit formed before independence. Though it could not leave a significant mark politically, it successfully worked to eradicate certain social evils. The Koeris have been yearning for social uplift and had formed All India Kushwaha Kshatriya Mahasabha to achieve the status of Kshatriyas. They also had a significant presence in the Maoist movement in central Bihar in the 1960s.