"They are conspiring to take away five per cent of the quota from Dalits, Mahadalits, Backwards and Extremely Backwards to give it away to another community," alleged PM Modi, calling it a "paap ki yojna" or "conspiracy of sin," and accusing Lalu and Nitish of "vote bank politics on communal lines."
"Modi will defend your right to reservation with his life. We will not allow anyone to take your reservation and give it away to another community," the PM said in comments seen as a reference to a promise made by the Congress-led UPA in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh in 2012, for reservation to Muslims.
Nitish Kumar shot back a few hours later, "PM Modi has shifted from pro-development to caste profile."
And Lalu Prasad tweeted, "The language of respected Modiji shows his desperation... also shows how badly the BJP is doing. The consolidation of the poor has made the BJP desperate, upset and restless."
Nitish and Lalu have repeatedly attacked PM Modi and his party, the BJP, ever since Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat suggested that the country's reservation policy be reviewed. The RSS is the BJP's ideological mentor and Nitish and Lalu have alleged that if the BJP is voted to power in Bihar, it will abolish reservation to please the upper castes, its traditional support base.
Put on the back foot, BJP leaders have sought to distance the party from the RSS chief's comments, asserting that the BJP, which is in power at the Centre, is "committed to reservation."
In Bihar, the BJP is locked in a bitter and close contest with the rival alliance and both sides are attempting to woo Dalits, other backward castes (OBCs) and extreme backward castes (EBCs), who benefit from affirmative action and constitute over 50 per cent of the voters.
The BJP has attempted to supplement its upper caste vote by partnering with three regional parties that have support among the backward castes.
Get Breaking news, live coverage, and Latest News from India and around the world on NDTV.com. Catch all the Live TV action on NDTV 24x7 and NDTV India. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram for latest news and live news updates.