By Sushil Kutty
Overnight a couple of planks for the 2024 General Elections has been laid – with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar releasing the Bihar Caste Census and Prime Minister Narendra Modi raking up the Kanhaiyalal ‘sar tan se juda’ in pollbound Rajasthan, both the politicians ready to do whatever is needed to get the upper hand by resorting to whatever it takes. So, in caste-ridden India making use of caste divisions is the same as playing the communal card, which is what the Prime Minister has fallen back on in the face of INDIA’s masterstroke, the ‘Caste Census’.
One entails consolidation of Hindu votes into a single bloc. The other seeks to bag victory with the isolation of particular caste-combinations, which calls for a caste census to begin with. Of course, that is what has been taking place even in the absence of a caste census. But a caste census helps create perception. And perception is half the battle won. Therefore, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s call for a meeting of the INDI-Alliance to discuss the Bihar caste census and its implications?
Friends of INDIA are calling the Bihar Caste Census a masterstroke. Perhaps knowing beforehand of the masterstroke, and its impact on the NDA’s poll prospects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose the time-tested communal card as a counterweight to offset the gains to the INDIA bloc from the caste census. And because Rajasthan is all set for assembly elections along with elections in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, there’s no time to waste. As it was, the Congress was already a step ahead with Kamalnath’s version of ‘Hindutva’ in Madhya Pradesh.
The BJP will be defending in Madhya Pradesh and is the challenger in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Another state going to polls, Telangana has the Congress surging and the BJP losing ground. The fact is permutations and combinations are changing fast in these poll bound states, the results of which will impact the outcome of General Elections 2024. And with every passing day, the urgency is maddening.
The Prime Minister hasn’t forgotten the panic-stricken couple of weeks of electioneering in Karnataka, when he had to resort to frenzied “Jai Bajrang Bali”, but still failed. And he isn’t sure if he will succeed in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. But the INDIA alliance is not far behind in uncertainty. While the Bihar caste census has bolstered INDIA’s confidence in the Hindi heartland, there will be need for infusion of degrees of “Kamalnath Hindutva” in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh also.
That being said, the Caste Census has opened up a Pandora Box. The “Jitni Abaadi Utni Haq’ is a clear gateway to “majoritarianism”, the bane of democracy gone crazy. And if that gateway opens to “Hindu majoritarianism”, what then? Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his statement that Muslims had the first right on resources and followed it up with the nightmare what if the “majority Hindus” asked for the “majority share” and he sounded like he enjoyed teasing the prospect of “what if?”
Bihar’s caste-based census was released on Gandhi Jayanti. The findings aren’t startling. The census coming ahead of the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and the 2024 general elections disclosed that the Other Backward Castes and EBCs account for 63 percent of Bihar’s 13 crore population with 18 percent Muslim population. Similar caste census may be carried out in other INDIA-run states. It is believed caste census will help INDIA consolidate certain castes to vote for secular parties and INDIA alliance as a whole.
The Modi alliance is aware of the danger to its vote-bank. The BJP’s entire focus from even before the 2014 mandate was to consolidate Hindu votes by removing the notion of caste from the general population. This is a model approved by the RSS and the VHP. The BJP was simultaneously dividing the Muslim vote and hoping to benefit from the intra-Muslim polarization. Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously told BJP cadre to “reach out to Muslims even if they do not vote BJP”.
From the looks of it, after Karnataka and the BJP’s own internal surveys, the Prime Minister is convinced the Pasmanda Muslims will not change their opinion of him for the few welfare schemes he directed towards them. The Hindu votes may also not gel in his favour unlike in 2014 and in 2019. The caste census may lay bare the changing perception about the Modi brand and the “Hindu vote-bank”. The Prime Minister is raking up “tailor’s throat” and “Jitni Abaadi Utni Haq” either out of realization striking him this could be the end of the road or he’s not ready to quit. For many in the realm, it is impossible to think of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an “ex-Prime Minister”. (IPA Service)