Nitish Kumar has sprung a political surprise with his proposed new quota in Bihar, which seems to have hit two targets: changing the discourse over his derogatory statements while putting the BJP in a political fix.
The proposed increase in quota from 50 per cent — the ceiling set by the Supreme Court—to 65 per cent has received the Cabinet’s nod from the Kumar government. With Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal on one side, all eyes are on the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has expressed support for it.
BJP’s state president, Samrat Chowdhury, said his party supports reservation, not just while in power but also while in the Opposition. Realising the caste realities of Bihar politics, Chowdhury did not stop at expressing support for it but went a step further to claim credit when he said, “Last year, when the NDA government was in power, the decision to conduct a caste census in the state was taken and it was started, the results of which were seen today.” Chowdhury said BJP legislators will vote in favour of the Bill when it is brought to the floor of the assembly to increase the reservation ceiling in the state.
Sources say the BJP’s support was due to political compulsions in a state where caste is still the dominant factor, and its refusal to support the bill would be akin to political suicide. The BJP fielded its most veteran leader, former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, to attack Nitish Kumar while expressing support for the Bill.
Walking a tightrope, Modi held a press conference to question why Kumar has not replicated this at the panchayat level, where the participation is wider.
“It has been announced to increase reservation from 50 per cent to 65 per cent. But the (Nitish Kumar) government is mum on panchayat and municipalities. Bills (for reservation in panchayats and municipalities) should also be brought in. You are increasing limits on government jobs. But that limit in the panchayat is just 37 per cent. It can very well go up to 50 per cent. I would say it can even go further,” said Modi.
However, News18 has learnt that many upper-caste leaders within the BJP are not very happy with the party’s stand, but they are not expressing their opinion, knowing that not supporting the Bill is not an option, politically speaking. When News18 contacted Mithilesh Tiwari, the BJP’s Bihar vice president and a Brahmin face, all he said was, “The party president has already spelled it out. Whatever he is saying is the party stand.”
The Nitish Kumar Cabinet has approved a proposal to increase reservations in Bihar for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) to 65 per cent from the current 50 per cent quota—a limit set by the Supreme Court of India. This excludes the Centre’s 10 per cent reservation for individuals from Economically Weaker Sections and will take the total reservation to 75 per cent.
The proposed Bill is likely to lay out a provision of 18 per cent quota for OBCs, 25 per cent to EBCs, 20 per cent to Scheduled Castes (SC), and two per cent to Scheduled Tribes (ST).
However, a BJP leader who hails from Bihar told News18 on the condition of anonymity that the party is keeping a close eye on how far it creates similar demand in other states, given the BJP’s discomfiture to go to campaign on the caste angle ahead of the 2024 general election.
This November, while addressing a public rally in Chhattisgarh’s Durg, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said for him, there’s only one caste in the nation, and that is poverty. “For those who are poor, Modi is their servant, their brother, and their son,” he added.
With inputs from News18