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Amit Shah launchesBJP's campaign for Bihar Assembly elections with rally on Ambedkar day

Amit Shah launchesBJP's  campaign for Bihar Assembly elections with rally on Ambedkar day
Patna: BJP chief Amit Shah and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh  kicked off the party's campaign for the Bihar Assembly elections at a rally in Patna today. It has been timed to coincide with the 125th birth anniversary of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar.

In the crucial state elections later this year, the BJP will battle the combined might of stalwarts Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav, whose parties, along with the Congress, hope to consolidate the Dalit, backward caste and Muslim vote bank.

It is the Dalit vote - 15 per cent of Bihar's population - where the BJP sees its best chance to challenge those Nitish-Lalu plans. The BJP has traditionally drawn more support from Bihar's upper castes, but in the 2014 national elections it joined with hands with regional leaders like Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha - the first a Dalit, the second a backward caste leader.

 The BJP and allies bagged 32 of Bihar's 40 seats. Lalu and Nitish, who fought separately, were routed. But in by-elections late last year, the two rivals came together and bested the BJP.

For the BJP, the November election in Bihar will be the first big test after its total rout in Delhi at the hands of the young Aam Aadmi Party, a defeat that has sent the party's strategists back to the drawing board. The early start to its campaign is also seen as a fallout of the Delhi debacle.

This will be the first Assembly election in Bihar that the BJP will contest on its own in a very long time. For 17 years, it played junior partner to Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) in an alliance that brought together the BJP's upper caste vote bank and Nitish Kumar's base among the state's Dalits and Mahadalits and Muslims.

Now that alliance is no more and the BJP must cover its own ground.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his JD(U) have been accusing the BJP of using Dr Ambedkar's legacy for political gains. Mr Kumar took over as Chief Minister recently after much drama in which the man he had appointed in the post, Jitan Ram Manjhi, refused to quit.

Mr Kumar had accused the BJP of scripting the rebellion of Mr Manjhi, who is a Mahadalit, with an eye on that vote bank.