Jehanabad: Having been locked in a bloody conflict in the 1990s, which saw a string of massacres in Bihar's Jehanabad district, the landed forward castes and deprived dalits appear to be sailing on the same boat in the state Assembly polls.
The coming together of BJP, largely considered a party of upper castes and baniyas, which are OBCs in the state, and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular), has made possible what was unthinkable a few years ago.
Politically more conscious and well-off Bhumihars, staunch supporters of BJP, are taking a lead in rallying around those from the Scheduled Castes, particularly the Mahadalits owing allegiance to Manjhi, as they work together to ward off a spirited challenge from the alliance led by OBC satraps Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD's Lalu Prasad.
HAM(S) is contesting two of the three constituencies in the district, while another NDA partner RLSP is fighting the third. Manjhi is in the fray from his traditional seat of Makhdumpur in the district.
Politics of caste identity, which had weakened over the last 10 years of Kumar's rule, is back with a vengeance in the area with the rival alliances striving to get their caste equations right.
"BJP's agenda of development is only a mask. Its real intention is to reverse the gains made by the poor and bring back the same Bihar where a small minority lorded over the deprived majority. We are warning people against its agenda," former MLA Munilal Yadav of RJD says, as he harks back to pre-90 era of upper caste domination.
His argument does not seem to be cutting much ice with the very same people who were the worst victims of this domination.
"Hum sab Manjhi ji ke saath hain, (we are all with Manjhi)," say Dinesh Manjhi and Dharmendra Manjhi in Purna Vihar village, sitting bare-chested by the roadside and trying to catch fish from a small pool.
Yadavs, the bedrock of Lalu's support base, constitute the largest voting bloc in the district followed by Bhumihars.
"We are with development as well as our casteman," says Ashok Yadav in Ghoshi, minutes after Lalu addressed a public meeting. "Nitish Kumar is for development and Lalu is our leader," he says.
Asked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet theme of development, he shot back, "What has he done so far? Look around and you will see how distressed farmers are."
With most voters driven by entrenched identities, a recent sting, which has put two RJD nominees from the district under a cloud over bribery charges, is not an issue for most RJD-JD(U) supporters. Kumar had, though, sacked senior minister Avadhesh Kushwaha after a sting video purportedly showed him taking a bribe to contest election.
In Dakshini village, Aditya Kumar, a Bhumihar from a different village, is holding a meeting with members of extremely backward castes and Dalits to ensure that they solidly back Manjhi in the reserved Mukhdumpur constituency where RJD has put up a candidate from another Dalit community in a bid to divide their votes.
"We are all pressing telephone," Kumar says. Telephone is HAM(S) election symbol. Asked if the old animosity between the two communities is gone, he says "Wo sab itihas hai (That is all history)."
Jehanabad, considered a hotbed of Bihar's caste politics, saw a string of masscres perpetrated by the upper caste militia Ranvir Sena and the then underground CPI-ML (liberation), which largely represented the depressed sections.