The release of Bihar Caste Census Report has two immediate consequences: First, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has further raised his pitch for conduction of caste census at national level; and secondly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the opposition of “trying to divide the country in the name of caste”. Both were trying to attack each other where it hurts.
The final political outcome will however depend on many factors that would unfold in the months to come before the Lok Sabha election 2024 including how the electorate weigh the claims and counter claims of the BJP and the Congress across the nation, and the opposition in their respective states.
While addressing a rally in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh in Gwalior, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed out at the opposition on Monday, October 3, 2023, the same day when the Bihar caste-based survey report was released, for having failed to secure development while in power and attacked them for “playing with the feelings of the poor”.
He, however, neither mentioned the survey nor any political party, but implied both in his sharp attack, “They played with emotions of the poor back then …, and even today they are playing the same game. Earlier, they divided the country in the name of caste … and today they are committing the same sin.” He said that any attempt at “division on caste lines” is a “sin”.
On the other hand it was only two days before the release of the Bihar caste-census survey report, Rahul Gandhi had promised, “After coming to power, first thing we will do is to go for caste-based census to know the exact number of OBCs … .” Then after the release of the survey report, Rahul Gandhi said, “… the Congress reiterates its demand that the union government conduct a national caste census at the earliest.”His Congress party has also said, “The (Congress-led) UPA government had, in fact, completed this census but its results were not published by the Modi government. Such a census is essential for providing a firmer foundation for social empowerment programmes and for deepening social justice.”
The first of its kind survey in the country, Bihar Caste Survey, has revealed that 36 per cent of the population are from Extremely Backward Classes and27.1 per cent are from Backward classes, which all totals to 63.1 per cent. Scheduled Caste are 19.7 per cent while Scheduled Tribes are 1.7 per cent. The general population is 15.5 per cent. This configuration of population is likely to impact not only the reservation policy in the state, but it would trigger demand for similar surveys in other states too. There are already demand of conducting caste census as far as in Maharashtra.
No one can deny its political impact, especially in the states of the Hindi heartland in particular and in the entire North India in general, from where BJP derives its political strength. Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand are the major states where any change in the OBC politics would impact the political fortune of the BJP, since the party has been all along opposing the caste census, while the opposition was demanding caste census to redress the political and economic injustices suffered in these states by OBC communities.
In all these states, the total number of Lok Sabha seats are 282 out of which BJP had won 210 seats in 2019 Lok Sabah election. PM Modi’s outburst against the opposition raising pitch for the caste census is thus understandable. PM Narendra Modi and the BJP has been trying to play OBC politics for quite some time to further consolidate its support base among the OBC communities on the one hand while opposing the very idea of caste census on the other. This dichotomy has now been understood sufficiently by the OBC communities in the light of Bihar caste-census report, and now they believe that the BJP have been in reality enticing him in the name of religion and religious unity of the Hindus while have no interest in addressing the political and economic injustice they have been undergoing.
Presently, OBC politics in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh has been dominated by the opposition – JD(U) and RJD combine in Bihar, and SP in Uttar Pradesh. Both the states have altogether 120 Lok Sabah seats out of which BJP had won 79 seats, 62 in Uttar Pradesh and 17 in Bihar. BJP’s win was largely contributed by JD(U) but there is and split this time, and the BJP’s is running the risk of loosing their majority of seats in 2024. BJP has consolidated the lower OBC communities into its fold in the name of Hindutva, in both the states, which the party is set to lose in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election. The Bihar Caste Census report has made the party precarious, while there is a new demand that OBC should be given their fair share in the fruits of development.
Almost all parties in the opposition INDIA alliance are in favour of Caste Census, barring the Mamata Banerjee’s TMC in Bengal. The immediate political impact of the Bihar Caste Census report is that the entire opposition may soon raise their pitches in favour of caste census alleging that it is because the BJP do not want to give OBCs their rightful share, the party has been opposing the Caste Census.
The entire politics across the nation, especially in the North India, and particularly in the states from where BJP derives its political strength in the name of Hindutva is likely to be impacted by the Caste Census issues relating to social justice, which PM Modi says a divisive politics played by the opposition in the name of caste. The new political twist may widen the Faultline of the divisive Hindutva communal politics, which would adversely impact the political fortune of PM Modi and the BJP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election 2024.
How much the Congress would gain by this churning cannot be said with any certainty, since the party had been the chief victim of the politics of social justice in the late 1980’s in the aftermath of Mandal of OBC politics, and then the BJP’s communal Hindutva politics, in the 1990’s. Congress’s support base was further eroded with the rise of Hindutva Communal politics in 2014 and afterwards. However, this much can be said that Congress would be major beneficiary of the new political twist around OBC politics, or the politics of social justice, since it has wider presence across the country, barring two states – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. INDIA alliance partners JD(U) and RJD are likely to be major beneficiaries in Bihar, and SP in Uttar Pradesh.
Extremely weaker backward classes, if they at all decide to move from BJP, have little option to move to the political parties other than Congress, because they are not comfortable with the dominant OBC community politics, such as in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Additionally, a fraction of their shift may frustrate all hopes of PM Modi and BJP of returning to power for the third term after Lok Sabha election 2024 at a time when tribes have lately been against the party, and joblessness and deepening cost-of-living crisis have made people miserable and angry against the Union Government. (IPA Service)