Patna, March 23: Bihar's ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has played a calculated caste card in selecting candidates for the Lok Sabha polls, which was reflected on Saturday when it announced the list of candidates for 39 out of the 40 seats in the state.
The lone seat for which a candidate was not announced was Khagaria.
The Patna Saheb seat in the state capital is a case in point. The BJP has chosen its senior leader and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Prasad belongs to an upper caste -- Kayastha. The sitting BJP MP from the seat, Shatrughan Sinha, also belongs to the same caste. Political grapevine has it that Sinha may join the Congress and contest the polls from Patna Sahib, after being dropped from the NDA's list of candidates.
The actor-turned-politician has been in the news since 2017 for his attacks on the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular.
"The Patna Saheb constituency reportedly has a sizeable number of Kayastha voters. Taking this into consideration, the NDA has picked Prasad as Sinha's replacement," said a BJP leader.
While the BJP primarily focused on naming candidates from the upper castes, considered the party's traditional support base, it also fielded candidates from the Other Backwward Classes (OBCs) and the Dalit community keeping in mind the winnability factor.
Other NDA partners such as the Janata Dal (United) of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar focused on fielding more candidates from the OBCs, the Economically Backward Classes (EBCs) and Dalits while the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) of Ram Vilas Paswan named candidates mainly from the upper castes and the Dalit community.
In Gaya, the JD-U has pitted Vijay Manjhi, a Dalit, against 'grand alliance' ally Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi, former Bihar Chief Minister and a major Dalit face in the state.
The JD-U has fielded Ajay Mandal, an EBC, from Bhagalpur to challenge Rashtriya Janata Dal's (RJD) sitting MP Bulo Mandal. Similarly, it fielded EBC candidate R.P. Mandal from Jhanjharpur, which has a sizeable EBC population.
"In the last 14 years, Nitish Kumar has worked a lot for empowering the EBCs. The JD-U enjoys a strong support base among them. So it's natural for the party to give more tickets to EBC candidates," said a JD-U leader.
The LJP, meanwhile, has focused mainly on the Paswan family and upper caste leaders.
With LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan not contesting from Hajipur this time, the party has fielded Paswan's younger brother Pasupati Kumar Paras, a Bihar Minister and state LJP President, in his place.
Ram Vilas Paswan's son Chirag Paswan will contest from Jamui, while another of his brothers, Ram Chandra Paswan, has been fielded from Samastipur from where he won in 2014.
The NDA's list of canidates was announced on Saturday during a joint press conference addressed by the BJP's state-in-charge Bhupinder Yadav in the presence of leaders from the JD-U and the LJP.
The BJP has shifted its firebrand leader and Union Minister Giriraj Singh from Nawada to Begusarai. Nawada went to the LJP under the seat-sharing formula.
"All the Union Ministers from BJP, including Radha Mohan Singh from Motihari, Ram Kirpal Yadav from Patliputra, Ashwani Choubey from Buxar and R.K. Singh from Ara, were given tickets," Yadav said.
Only one Muslim candidate figures in the NDA list -- JD-U's Mahmood Ashraf from Kishanganj.
The NDA had earlier officially announced the seat-sharing formula for the Lok Sabha elections.
According to the agreement, the JD-U and BJP will contest 17 seats each and the LJP the rest of the six seats.
The JD-U is contesting Valmikinagar, Sitamarhi, Jhanjharpur, Supaul, Kishanganj, Katihar, Purnea, Madhepura, Bhagalpur, Gopalganj, Banka, Munger, Nalanda, Gaya, Jehanabad, Siwan and Karakat parliamentary seats.
The BJP is contesting West Champaran, East Champaran, Sheohar, Madhubani, Araria, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Maharajganj, Saran, Ujiyarpur, Begusarai, Sasaram, Aurangabad, Buxar, Ara, Patna Saheb and Patliputra constituencies.
The LJP is contesting the Vaishali, Hajipur, Jamui, Khagaria, Samastipur and Nawada seats.
The BJP has ceded five seats to the JD-U -- Valmikinagar, Gaya, Siwan, Gopalganj and Jhanjharpur -- that it won in 2014.
The BJP-led NDA won 31 of the 40 seats in the state in 2014. Of this, the BJP won 22 seats, the LJP 6 and the Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) 3. The RLSP has joined the opposition Grand Alliance this time.
The JD-U, not part of the NDA then, had contested the 2014 elections on its own and won only two seats -- Purnea and Nawada.