Home >Politics >Policy >Bihar elections: Was it caste or development for the youth?

A look at the election manifestos of the two political alliances that contested the Bihar assembly polls show that the youth was a priority for both, and leaders across parties have since talked extensively about employment and education at the hustings.

The reason is not too far away. Out of the electorate of 67 million in the state, around 20 million were voters in the 18-29 age group. The unemployment rate in this age group, according to labour ministry data, is around 17.5%, higher than the national average of 13%.

It was not surprising to see the Mahagathbandhan, or Grand Alliance, of Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), promising the unemployed youths aged 20-25 1,000 per month as help for two years, and for those who have cleared higher secondary examination, a student credit card to get a loan of 4 lakh with an interest subvention of 3%, as well as a 500 crore venture capital fund to promote self-employment, WiFi in colleges and universities, and registration and modern employment consultancy centres to help the youth get training in language, computers and skill development.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance promised international education hubs, turning four cities into coaching hubs, lower interest rates for female students, finance for self-employment, and shops in vacant spaces.

Sure, these were the opportunities that the youth of Bihar has been looking for decades, as is evident in the huge amount of migration for higher education and employment to other states. Political analysts before the elections argued that the focus on development was due to growing aspirations for rapid job creation, among other things.

The magnitude of the unemployment issue can be gauged from the fact that only 5.94% of the 17.8 million rural households in the state have at least one person with a salaried job, according to the Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 data, a figure much lower than the national average of 9.66%.

Which model of growth did the youth vote for?

“Though it is early to say, but in such kind of a mandate, everyone must have voted for the winner," said Sanjay Kumar, political analyst and director of the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

This could be a vote in the favour of two-term chief minister Nitish Kumar’s style of development and not for the Narendra Modi style of development that has been promised, Kumar said.

“There was a lot of goodwill for Nitish Kumar. There is no doubt about that. He gave jobs to teachers and ensured that college professors are paid on time. Women in the state sympathized with Nitish. He provided them freedom and a sense of security. That was a huge factor," said Usha Singh, associate professor at Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University in Madhepura, Bihar.

RJD chief Prasad claimed at a media briefing that the youth has voted for the Grand Alliance. “We will take them towards the growth they are looking for," he promised.

However, though development emerged as a key factor, the traditional fault lines of caste and religion seem to have dominated.

Chandan Singh, a BJP youth functionary working the Banka, Jamui and Bhagalpur areas of Bihar, said that the youth could not get out of the caste fold.

“Narendra Modi evoked aspirations but closer to the elections, the youth again went back to the caste-based voting mindset and this was primarily because there were no prominent local faces to connect with," he said. The point about a lack of local leaders in the ranks of BJP was articulated by political analysts before the polling as well.

But not everyone voted for caste.

“I voted for BJP as I want more job opportunities to be created in the state. Unfortunately, BJP lost the elections, which means Bihar lost a golden opportunity to see some rapid growth," said Shubham Sandilya, an engineering student and first-time voter.

However, Singh claimed the election in Bihar was never about development, but about caste.

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