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Politics

How Nitish Kumar Is Keeping the Issue of Bihar Caste Survey Alive

The recent decision of the Bihar Cabinet to demand the Centre to incorporate hiked reservation for deprived classes in the constitution and Special Category Status for the state are among strategic political moves by the Bihar chief minister to follow up on the caste survey.

Patna: The Nitish Kumar-led Bihar cabinet demanded the Union government on Wednesday, November 22, to incorporate the raised 65% quota for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs), and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the Ninth Schedule of the constitution, and Special Category Status for the state to meet the challenges that the caste survey has thrown up.

Deputy chief minister, Tejashwi Yadav, followed up on the Bihar cabinet’s demand on Thursday, November 23, by holding a press conference and explaining the details of the cabinet’s decision. The minutes of the cabinet meeting stated that Bihar has 94 lakh families living below the poverty line who have to be paid Rs 2 lakh each in installments to get employment, 63,850 landless families to be paid Rs 1 lakh each to buy land, and Rs 1.20 lakh each to build houses. These expenses require Rs 2.5 lakh crore for which the Special Category Status to the state is required, he added. Besides, the inclusion of the raised reservation in the Ninth Schedule on the lines of Tamil Nadu would give Bihar immunity from legal challenges.

Also read: Bihar Passes Bills Raising Caste-Based Quota From 50% To 65%, Taking Total Reservation to 75%

Now, the question arises whether the Narendra Modi government would accept Bihar’s demand. Going by the relationship between the Mahagathbandhan of Janata Dal (United)-Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress-Left parties and the BJP-led Union government, it is hardly likely that the Centre will yield to the state’s wishes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected the demand for a national caste census over two years ago. He has not granted Rs 1.20 lakh crore of special packages that he had promised at his election meeting at Arra during the 2015 assembly elections. The sympathisers of the BJP challenged Bihar’s caste survey in the Patna high court and the Supreme Court. And the solicitor general of India opposed it in the apex court.

That the Union government wouldn’t concede to the demand has become obvious with the senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi saying, “Both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar were ministers at the Centre. The Congress ruled India for 75 years. But they didn’t consider Bihar for Special Category Status. Now, the 14th and 15th Finance Commissions have said that no state would be given Special Category Status any longer. The Prime Minister has granted Rs 1.50 lakh crore to Bihar as special financial assistance.”

Pot boiling

Now, buoyed up by the response to the Bihar caste survey at the national level, Nitish Kumar has decided to get his cadres to hit the streets in the state. The Communist Party of India (CPI) – which is a part of the ruling Mahagathbandhan in the state and of the India National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) at the national level – staged demonstrations in various parts of the state on Friday to press for the Special Category Status.

The results of assembly elections in five states will be known on December 3, but reports suggest that the caste survey is expected to have a strong impact on the electorate in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has promised a similar survey and proportionate participation of the marginalised communities in governance in every election meeting he has addressed. It’s obvious that the INDIA parties – which have largely supported Bihar’s caste survey – will make what they describe as a panacea to large-scale unemployment among the marginalised sections the main issue in the run-up to the 2024 elections.

Both Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav, who are working in harmony, are, apparently, aware that their moves have given a template to other parties including the Congress to fight the 2024 general elections against the BJP. So, even if the BJP concedes to their demands, they would use the caste survey followed by the appointment of 1.20 lakh teachers to keep the pressure on the Narendra Modi-led regime.

Representative image of a BJP flag. Photo: Ismat Ara/ The Wire

They are largely capable of doing it because of their mass base among the people. The RJD has a huge network of cadre, mostly comprising the backward classes in Bihar hinterlands. Nitish Kumar has decided to embark on a yatra in the state’s hinterlands in the coming days to follow up on the welfare schemes and development work at the ground level and know the response of the people. The BJP doesn’t seem to have a clue to counter Nitish’s moves, making an impact at the national level, at least, at this stage.

Also read: Nine Reasons Why Numbers Revealed by Bihar Caste Census Could Shake Up National Politics

Bihar model

It’s not that Nitish has done all these things all of a sudden without any planning and thinking. Prior to Bihar chief minister dumping the BJP in August 2022 and joining the Mahagathbandhan, Tejashwi Yadav, of course, inspired by his father Lalu, had been demanding the caste census. He had promised 10 lakh jobs to the youth during the 2020 assembly elections. Nitish and Tejashwi were united on these issues before joining hands.

After they came to power, they aggressively embarked on giving employment and carrying out the caste survey. On October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Bihar government released the figures of various castes in the state. On November 2, Nitish, Tejaswhi and other ministers distributed letters of appointment to as many as 1.20 lakh newly recruited teachers in one day. In total, the Bihar government has given jobs to about four lakh unemployed youth since the Mahagathbandhan came to power in August 2022.

The Bihar government has planned for five years to address the challenges thrown by the caste survey, which primarily includes employment in proportion to the population of the castes concerned, housing, land, and integration of marginalised sections in the governance apparatus.

These are all real issues, considered to be an antidote to the politics of Hindutva, the mainstay of the BJP’s politics. At the level of working out on seat adjustment, the INDIA partners are still far away. But they appear to have found common ground on issues raised by the Bihar model, making them their central focus for the 2024 elections.

Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author, media educator, and independent researcher in folklore.