Patna, Oct 27 (IANS) Caste, caste, caste... As Bihar readies for the third phase of assembly elections on Wednesday, caste seems to have taken the centre stage yet again.
Although rival claimants for power are talking about issues related to economic development, political activists and voters think it is caste which will finally determine who votes for who.
That has made the Bihar battle all the more tough for everyone.
A total of 50 of the 243 constituencies, nearly a dozen of them urban centric and in the fertile belt in Bihar's six districts, go to the polls on Wednesday. The five-phase elections end on November 5.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, this region, like most of Bihar, voted overwhelmingly for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP-led four-party alliance wants to repeat the show now.
So the third phase will be a litmus test for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's claims of having provided development and good governance.
Nitish Kumar's home turf Nalanda, known as 'Kurmistan' due to the dominance of his Kurmi caste, is likely to back the Grand Alliance of his JD-U, RJD and Congress.
Lalu Prasad's prestige is at stake as his sons -- Tej Pratap Yadav and Tejaswi Yadav -- are in the fray.
They are contesting from Mahua and Raghopur seats respectively in Vaishali district. Lalu Prasad has vigorously campaigned for them. His wife and former chief minister Rabri Devi has confined herself to the two constituencies.
In both seats, Lalu Prasad's community may decide the fate of his sons.
The BJP and its allies' campaign managers know the voting may not follow the Lok Sabha pattern when a Modi wave bulldozed everyone else.
Comments against job reservation made by the RSS chief -- later disowned by BJP leaders -- has been a major campaign issue.
To counter it, the BJP has claimed that the Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress are trying to ensure job quotas for Muslims.
Modi has presented himself as a "son of poor EBC" (extreme backward caste) tea seller.
Nitish Kumar has taken on Modi over his caste comment.
"From a development driver, he first became an OBC and now he is calling himself an EBC. Don't be surprised if he becomes a Dalit also in course of time," the JD-U leader quipped.
The BJP is banking heavily on the EBCs and Dalits and other backward castes, including Yadav voters, to get the winning votes.
It appears confident of the overwhelming support of upper castes along with some OBCs and EBCs as well as Dalits, mainly because of its alliance with former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan.
But in election rallies, both Modi and his foes talk about how to develop Bihar.
About 14.5 million voters are eligible to decide the fate of 808 candidates on Wednesday. Most of the 14,170 polling booths are in rural areas. The six districts where polling will be held are Patna, Saran, Vaishali, Nalanda, Bhojpur and Buxar.
The first phase of voting on October 12 saw polling in 49 assembly seats, followed by 32 constituencies on October 16.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms and the National Election Watch, 215 candidates in the third round face serious criminal charges including those of murder.