The list of Janata Dal-United candidates for the Bihar assembly elections bears the unmistakable stamp of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has made a sagacious attempt to consolidate his extremely backward castes (EBC) support base while trying to make a dent into RJD's Muslim-Yadav combine.
In accordance with the seat-sharing formula for the 243-member assembly, the JD-U has got 122 seats but is contesting only 115, leaving the remaining seven for the Hindustani Awam Morcha of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who is back in the National Democratic Alliance.
The EBCs, numerically large but disorganised, have found a pride of place in the list, with 19 candidates drawn from this social segment, nurtured over the years by Kumar as a bulwark against the Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Kumar, as part of his social engineering, zealously courted them through welfare measures like sub-quotas for them in government jobs in an attempt to make inroads into RJD supremo Lalu Prasad's once solid OBC support base.
For years the OBCs had almost voted for the RJD en bloc before Kumar parted ways with the Yadav chieftain.
Even more conspicuous is the candidature of 19 Yadavs, numerically the largest caste group in Bihar who have, by and large, stood rock solid behind the RJD.
Yadav candidates like sitting MLAs Bijendra Prasad Yadav and Poonam Yadav are old JD-U hands.
However, new entrants like Chandrika Roy and Jaivardhan Yadav alias 'Bachcha' give a clearer idea of the game plan of Kumar, against whom the RJD has been trying to create, with little success, a wave of resentment over the betrayal of mandate a reference to the JD(U) boss winning the 2015 polls in alliance with the RJD but changing course midway and returning to the NDA.
Roy, who has been fielded from his pocket borough Parsa, is the father of Aishwarya Roy, who got married to the RJD supremos elder son Tej Pratap Yadav in 2018 but was abandoned by her husband barely six months after tying the knot.
Jaivardhan, who won Paliganj for the RJD in 2015, walked into the JD-U camp a couple of months ago.
His exit seems to have made things too hot to handle for the RJD which has handed over Paliganj to the CPI(ML) as part of a hurriedly cobbled alliance.
Jaivardhan Yadav is the grandson of Congress veteran late Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, a former union minister and the most formidable Yadav leader in Bihar of the pre-Mandal era.
With 18 Yadav and 11 Muslim nominees, the JD-U also seems to have sought to make a dent into the RJDs famed MY combination, the bedrock of the party's support base.
The candidature of 12 Kurmis, who are numerically small, is hardly surprising. The community takes pride in the fact that the chief minister is from amongst them. Of strategic importance, though, is party tickets to 15 Kushwahas, numerically the largest among OBCs after the Yadavs.
Kurmis and Koeris, the caste name by which Kushwahas are more popularly known, have been seen as political comrades in arms.
Their camaraderie have earned them the sobriquet Luv-Kush in the political parlance of Bihar.
Attempts have been made by RLSP chief and former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha to wean away his castemen from the JD-U but with hardly any success.
17 tickets have gone to the Scheduled Castes, and the party hopes to offset any Dalit backlash caused by the rebellion of Chirag Paswans LJP with the help of Manjhi.
19 candidates happen to be from among the upper castes, to whom the party has sought to reach out with the message that their outright rejection of the JD-U after it snapped ties with BJP in 2013 notwithstanding, the party cares for all.
In any case, with Kumar returning to the NDA fold, his party hopes to secure the solid backing of the upper castes.
Among the upper caste candidates, seven are Rajputs, whom the party has sought to reach out to with the induction of former Union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singhs son Satya Prakash, who is expected to be accomodated in the legislative council later.
Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, a founding member of the RJD who enjoyed respect across party lines, had resigned from the primary membership a day before his death from post-COVID complications and a couple of months after stepping down as national vice-president.
The party has also fielded 10 Bhumihars. These include turncoats like Sudarshan Kumar, the sitting MLA from Barbigha, who quit the Congress recently and is the JD-U candidate from the same seat.
Another Bhumihar candidate who has aroused much curiosity is Rajiv Lochan Singh from Mokama, a soft-spoken man with roots in the Sangh Parivar who moves around wearing a tilak and is known by the nickname sadhu baba.
The docile debutant is pitted against multiple-term MLA Anant Kumar Singh, a dreaded figure who was booked under the stringent anti-terror law UAPA last year after a huge cache of arms, ammunition and explosives was recovered from his residence.
Anant Singh had started his political journey in 2005 with the JD-U and was known to enjoy the confidence of Nitish Kumar.
Ahead of the 2015 assembly polls, he burnt bridges with the chief minister when he quit the party saying he was opposed to the proposed tie-up with RJD.
The RJD supremo, on his part, claimed during the campaign that he had got Nitish Kumar to act against the Mokama MLA for committing atrocities against a Yadav boy.
Politics is known to make strange bedfellows and Anant Singh has ended up entering the fray as an RJD candidate.