This is why, while expressing scepticism about a nationwide caste survey, the BJP has offered support to the quota hike and cash aid announced by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar Tuesday after the socioeconomic details of the survey were released in the assembly.
In light of the caste survey, not only has the Nitish Kumar government approved an increase in the caste-based quota, to 65 percent from 50 percent, but also offered Rs 2 lakh in financial assistance to the 94 lakh families in Bihar with an income of less than Rs 6,000 per month.
“The BJP has no alternative but to support Nitish Kumar at this stage to get support of backward castes,” said a senior BJP leader. “Our strategy is to bring out the anomalies in the caste survey to polarise non-dominant OBC and EBC caste groups against the dominant Yadavs. We are hopeful that Nitish’s decline will shift EBC vote in favour of the BJP,” the leader added.
“The bigger challenge is the RJD. That is why we are concentrating on bringing the Muslim-Yadav narrative to polarise other OBCs,” the leader said, even as he added that “Nitish Kumar’s reservation game and Rs 2 lakh assistance can upset BJP strategy”.
The financial assistance is also expected to benefit 10 lakh families in the general category, which forms the BJP’s core vote bank.
The caste survey has reportedly reconfirmed the economic inequality of backward castes as compared to the general category.
This has set the momentum for the start of the next phase of Mandal politics nationwide — not only in terms of renewed pressure to hold a caste census, but to breach the 50 percent limit imposed by the Supreme Court on reservation.
While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is among those supporting the calls for a nationwide caste census, and proportional representation for different communities, the BJP has so far opposed the demand on account of potential “administrative and social challenges”.
What survey says
According to the findings of the Bihar caste survey, OBCs and EBCs constitute 63 percent of the state’s population, with the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) accounting for over 21 percent.
It shows that 42.93 percent of Scheduled Caste (SCs) families and 42.70 of the Scheduled Tribes (STs) earn less than Rs 6,000 a month. Among OBCs and EBCs, this stands at 33.16 percent and 33.58 percent, respectively.
Yadavs, a dominant OBC caste, have been listed as one of most poor in the category with a 1.55 percent share in government jobs. Among the upper castes, the Kayasthas, Bhumihars, Rajputs and Brahmins — who form less than 12 percent of the population — together hold more than 19 percent of government jobs, the data shows.
RJD MP Manoj Jha has demanded that there should be “justice for 90 percent”, referring to the backward castes.
The BJP, meanwhile, has said it “is in favour of increasing reservation for backward communities. “The BJP demands hike in reservation in panchayat and local body from 37 percent to 50 percent,” said Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi.
Other BJP leaders have also supported the Nitish Kumar government’s move, claiming it was due to the party’s support that backward classes are getting enhanced reservation.
Concurrently, however, leaders of the party have questioned the veracity of survey data, calling the exercise “manipulated”.
‘Create counter-polarisation of EBCs against Yadavs’
The BJP has raised questions on the survey findings, saying the “reduced number of EBCs and increased number of Yadav-Muslims” smells fishy. This is meant to counter-polarise non-dominant OBCs against the Yadavs.
This is the first part of its strategy to turn the survey against the Nitish Kumar government.
Addressing a rally in Muzaffarpur, Union Home Minister Amit Shah raised this point, and even sought to taunt Nitish by asking him to make an EBC the chief minister.
Former minister Nand Kishore Yadav said in the legislative council Tuesday that “this survey data has anomalies and the numbers of a few castes have been increased and that of others has been decreased”.
A day before, Sushil Modi asked “how the Yadav population had increased from 12.7 percent to 14.3 percent and Muslims from 14.6 to 17.7 percent, while the number of Kushwahas had gone down from 5 percent to 4.2 percent, Kurmis from 3.3 to 2.2 percent, Dhanak from 2.2 to 2.1 percent, and Kahar from 1.8 percent to 1.6 percent”.
He also alleged the survey suggested the number of Brahmins had gone down from 5.5 to 3.7 percent, Rajputs from 5 percent to 3.7 percent, and Kayasthas from 1.3 to 0.6 percent.
“That is why we want panchayat-wise data to know whether it’s fair or not,” he said.
Speaking to ThePrint, Hari Sahni, leader of the BJP in the Bihar legislative council, said the “Nitish government has done a scam in caste survey by reducing the number of EBCs”.
“There are many loopholes in survey data to help the RJD. We demand to hike reservation for EBC community to undo damage done by Nitish-Tejashwi govt,” he added.
The charge of manipulation has been dismissed by Nitish Kumar, who asked how numbers could have been shown to increase or decrease when no enumeration exercise had been carried out earlier.
‘Show Lalu as enemy of EBC’
The second part of the BJP’s strategy is to demand the release of economic and educational survey data at panchayat and ward levels.
While the ostensible aim is to seek “transparency of data”, the BJP wants to use the information to bring “anomalies” to light and create suspicion in the minds of OBCs about Nitish “favouring” the RJD votebanks to continue in power while surpassing other marginalised communities.
The BJP had earlier used polarisation of upper castes and the narrative of ‘jungle raj’ against the RJD government in 1990 and 2000 to strengthen its base in Bihar. It’s believed to be attempting the same with Nitish, who has a base among the EBCs, by projecting Lalu as an enemy of EBCs.
The BJP, in its communications, has been seeking to highlight how former CM Rabri Devi of the RJD conducted panchayat polls in 2001 without giving reservation to backward classes.
It has also called for hiking EBC reservation from 18 percent, as it was before the hike, to 30 percent. As part of the latest quota hike, Nitish has increased the quota for EBCs to 25 percent.
‘Projecting BJP as real champion of OBCs’
From Bihar BJP chief Samrat Choudhary to Sushil Modi, BJP leaders have been pointing out that it was the BJP’s Kailashpati Mishra, finance minister in the Karpoori Thakur-led Bihar government (1977-1979), who decided to give 27 percent reservation to backward community, while the Congress opposed the Mandal commission report.
The BJP this week organised a meeting of OBC leaders to fine- tune its strategy for the community. It has also announced that if the party is elected in the upcoming Telangana election, the chief minister will be from a backward caste.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a rally in Telangana Tuesday, said it was the “BJP that made me, an OBC, Prime Minister”. “The BJP has made 27 OBCs Union ministers,” he said.
Said Choudhary, “It was the BJP that was at the forefront of every government to push reservation for OBCs — first during the Karpoori Thakur government… when (former PM) V.P. Singh decided to implement Mandal commission… During NDA government, we implemented reservation in local bodies. BJP at the Centre created commission for backward classes. Today, the Modi government has 27 OBC ministers.”
Meanwhile, the RJD, he added, did not create pressure during the Manmohan Singh government to release the findings of the 2011 socioeconomic and caste census.
“The Congress, from the Kaka Kalelkar commission (the first panel on backward classes) to Mandal commission, opposed reservation for backward communities,” he said.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)