Once again, the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has proved that his bête noire Narendra Modi could not match his political craftsmanship and administrative acumen. Though the middle class bhakts of Modi claim that he has perfect understanding of the time, when to strike and how to mutilate his opponent, the Tuesday move of Nitish to release the socio-economic data of caste census sends a clear message that he has more incisive understanding of the importance of both inclusiveness as well as political timing.
While all the promises made by Modi to the people of India — whether it is about depositing Rs 15 lakhs in their bank accounts, or ameliorating the economic miseries of the Dalits and poor, or completely root out corruption— have simply proved to be jumlas, consigned to the political dustbin, Nitish increased the cumulative reservation to 75 per cent. Significantly, the proposal was ratified by the Bihar cabinet in the same evening. He also initiated measures to ensure the progress of the poor and marginalised sections of society.
Bihar currently has a total reservation of 60 per cent — 50 per cent for the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and the Other Backward Castes (OBCs); and an additional 10 per cent quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS) in the general category. Though the Supreme Court has imposed a limit of 50 per cent on reservation in government jobs and educational institutions through its various judgments since 1990, he would go ahead with his plan.
On November 7, the Mahagathbandhan government took the decision to place the socio economic report of the caste survey on the table of the Bihar assembly, as the BJP supported by its media friends, tried to create a public narrative that the survey was bogus and Nitish has manipulated the findings to malign the BJP. A section of the Modi-friendly media had even went to the extent of forecasting that it would never see the light.
Nevertheless, against much falsehood spread by the BJP ecosystem, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar managed to release the report, which inevitably smashed the make-believe fake narrative created by the BJP of its being the sole well-wisher of the upper-castes. The figures no doubt relate to Bihar, but the facts provide a comprehensive outlay for all across the country.
The report in fact did an incredible but pleasant service to the state in the form of exposing the myth that upper castes were all affluent. The survey exposed the bare fact that around 30 per cent of the people belonging to four upper castes Bhumihars, Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasthas are poor and live in under the shadow of penury.
Of course, academics, intellectuals, social and political activists were expecting that the Bihar government would also release the report on the nature of land holdings according to caste and bring to light which caste possesses the highest acreage of land. But the government did not release this in the current report. However, the nature of poverty and percentage of poor belonging to upper castes, provides a glimpse that a major portion of land is owned by a miniscule section of the upper caste landlords. Many moves to bring about land reforms in the state has miserably failed to break the stranglehold of the landlords and this has been primary reason for continued pauperisation of about 40 per cent of the population.
The socio-economic status report also revealed that more than a third of families in Bihar are poor and are making do with a monthly income of Rs 6,000 or less, while 42 per cent of the SC-ST families live on the same income. Yet another significant facet of the report is that it exposes the hollowness and political bankruptcy of Amit Shah, who only publicly ridiculed the survey and blamed the Bihar CM of spreading lies. Shah’s denial and blaming Nitish have got strong political implications. The report exposes the failures of Modi in bringing about a shred of prosperity anywhere, at least in the state. Yet, the prime minister doesn’t tire of claiming that India became truly independent only after he came to power in 2014. While peoples’ expectations were huge, the Bihar caste-based socio-economic status report sends a strong political message that Modi has equally failed his supporters and bhakts.
The quota for SCs and STs together stands at 17 per cent. It should be raised to 22 per cent. Likewise, the reservation for OBCs should also be hiked from the current 50 per cent to 65 per cent. According to the survey report, OBCs, including the extremely backward classes sub-group, accounted for a whopping 63 per cent of the state’s total population, while SCs and STs together were slightly over 21 per cent.
Nitish’s announcement that his government would provide an assistance of Rs two lakh each to the 94 lakh poor families for taking up some form of economically productive work may not appear to be more than ‘rewdi’ (freebies) for Modi, but the fact remains that it would boost the purchasing power of lakhs of hapless families. Nitish’s clever has is likely to create more problems for Modi as other states also come out with the demand for an increase in quotas, such as Odisha which raised this issue. The Bihar caste survey findings and its socio-economic, land holding and other corollaries have the cumulative potential to seriously upset RSS and BJP politics of Hindu consolidation and polarization to win votes in 2024. The landmark Bihar survey would likely open the doors for a serious revamp of the country’s affirmative action plans amid calls to grant proportional benefits to marginalised castes in line with their share of the population, as put forward by the INDIA bloc, thus galvanizing a huge chunk of the voting population.
If Modi had conceded to Nitish’s demand to grant special category status to Bihar, the state could have helped its poor much sooner. A financially crunched state could not be expected to do much to truly emancipate the poor. After presenting the report, Nitish reiterated: “On this occasion, I would like to renew my request for the grant of special category status to Bihar”. If Nitish is to be believed, Bihar needs a fund of 2.51 lakh crores to meet the challenge. He said: “We have estimated that the state will have to bear an additional burden of Rs 2.51 lakh crore to improve the lot of the poor. The survey says 94 lakh families in Bihar are poor, surviving on a monthly income of Rs 6,000 or less,” he said. If we get the special status, we will be able to achieve our goals in two to three years. Otherwise, it may take much longer.”
Since Nitish’s socio-economic narrative has inflicted a severe damage to the politics of Hindutva of RSS and BJP, it could be presumed that Modi will not undertake such exercise at national level. The upper-caste people live with a strong feudal mentality, and even a poor person belonging to this section treats himself to be a feudal lord. Likely, the upper castes would prove to a major stumbling block for the RSS and Modi in pursuing their mission of turning India into a Hindu Rashtra. Already some leaders of Brahmarshi Samaj (a Bhumihar outfit) have started blaming RSS and Modi for deceiving them.
Suddenly the issue of marginalisation of upper castes in the BJP has surfaced in a strong manner. Amit Shah by appointing a turncoat Samrat Choudhary as state president had tried to send the message that he relies more on OBC for the revival of the party. After the release of the report, the Bhumihars and Rajputs have started saying that BJP leadership simply exploited them for its electoral gains. In return, they did not get the benefit they ought to have received.
The survey report includes detailed insights into the economic status of 215 different social groups — such as Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes, Backward Classes, and Extremely Backward Classes. The report underlines that around 42 per cent of individuals from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, 33 per cent from the Backward Classes, and 25 per cent from the General Castes in Bihar are living in poverty.
Regarding education, the government noted that merely 7 per cent of the population has attained a graduate degree, while 22.67 per cent have completed their education up to Class-5. The report also revealed that 14.33% of the population has education ranging from Classes 6 to 8, and 14.71% have completed their studies up to Class 10. In addition, 9.19% of the population has completed their education up to Class 12.
Particularly RSS leadership is most worried of the impact of this report on the OBC and Dalits, who of late have been showing the signs of drifting away from the BJP and RSS. This development taking place just six months ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election would severely damage the poll prospect of the BJP. During last ten years the RSS and especially Modi have stratified Hindu community into various castes, following in the policies of RSS. There is no doubt that it would boomerang on their face.
After a decade of electoral marginalisation, the opposition parties are now trying to challenge BJP’s politics of Hindutva. Rahul Gandhi has been repeatedly insisting on proportionate representation of marginalised communities in getting their due rights, as per their share of the population, with the catchy slogan “Jitni Abadi, Utna Haq”. On the other hand, RSS and Modi has sought to create a diverse voter base among Hindus, consisting of both dominant and marginalised castes, including tribals and Dalits.
The report revealed that around 25% of the general category earns just Rs 6,000 per month, while 23% have a monthly income of Rs 6,000-toRs 10,000. At least 19% have income between Rs 10,000-Rs 20, 000; 16% between Rs 20,000-Rs 50,000; and 9% have an income of more than Rs 50,000. In Other Backward Castes (OBC), 33% of the working population have a monthly income of Rs 6,000; 29% between Rs 6,000- Rs 10,000; 18% between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000; 10% between Rs 20,000 – Rs 50,000; and 4% of them have an income above Rs 50,000.
In the state which floated the concept of Muslim-Yadav politics, the condition of the general Muslims is quite deplorable. Among Muslim upper castes, which include the Shiekhs, Pathans and the Sayyads, 39,595 people of Sheikh caste have government jobs which is 0.79% of their actual population. As far as Pathans are concerned, 10,517 people have government jobs which is 1.07% of the total population. Meanwhile, at least 7,231 people from the Sayyad caste have government jobs which is 2.42% of their total population. (IPA Service)