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Caste narrative in Bihar

[By Narendra Kaushik]

New Delhi: Let me come straight to the point. To say that Bihar election results are a resounding negation of Political forces which are out to monger hate in the society and thus, create communal divisions is, to put it succinctly, only a half truth.

I agree Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah attempted to polarise voters on religious lines in the run up to the last and 5th phase of polling in the state with their statements on religious quota and possible celebration of BJP’s defeat in Pakistan by bursting crackers.

I also do not deny that Modi’s allegation against Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supremo Lalu Prasad and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on carving of religious quota by subtracting percentage from reservation meant for scheduled castes, other backward, most backward and extremely backward classes was a crude attempt to consolidate Hindu voters in favour of the BJP. Nor do I deny that Shah was also attempting the same when he told a public meeting that if the BJP lost the election crackers would be burst in Pakistan.

But to say that the overwhelming mandate for the RJD, Janata Dal (United) and Congress Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) is purely a vote against Modi and Shah’s polarisation attempts and Sangh Parivar’s politics over beef is not just flawed but also illogical.

Caste polarisation

Also to say that Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar have never tinkered with social harmony and never tried to carve vote banks by dividing people in the state flies in the face of logic as well as history of less than last three decades.

Prasad has never quite concealed his aversion towards upper castes and openly instigated pichhdas (backwards and Yadavs in particular) by railing publicly against the upper castes.

His party rode into power on the strength of MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination and Mandal wave in the 1990 and held the reins for a decade and a half by perpetuating the caste divisions. His controversial statement ‘‘Bhura Bal saaf karo (eliminate Bhumihars, Rajputs, Brahmins and Kayasthas) made in 1992, within the first two years of his party’s rule, bears testimony to this.

Even in the assembly elections which concluded earlier this month Prasad left no stone unturned to put the backwards against the forwards.

In fact, in the very beginning of his campaign, he called the polls a ‘backward-versus-forward fight’. Referring to Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement whereby the latter had called for a review of reservation policy to decide which categories require the reservation and for how long, Prasad accused the RSS being an organisation of ‘Brahmins’.

Election Commission of India rightly found his remarks, spoken in Raghopur, the assembly constituency of his son Tejaswi Yadav, violative of Section 123 of People’s Representation Act and ordered registration of an FIR (first information report) against him.

3A, a sub-section of Section 123 warns against ‘promotion of, or attempt to promote, feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language, by a candidate or his agent or any other person…for the furtherance of the prospects of the election of that candidate or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate’.

Lalu Prasad and other leaders of the grand alliance used a seemingly innocuous answer of Bhagwat in an interview to RSS Weekly Organiser to whip up a wave of unrest among the backwards and other castes who have benefitted from reservations over the years.

This is what Bhagwat had said when asked by the interviewer to name a policy initiative which is in tune with integral humanism,

“Reservation for socially backward classes is the right example in this regard. If we would have implemented this policy as envisaged by the Constitution makers instead of doing politics over it, then the present situation would not have arrived.

Since inception, it has been politicised. We believe, form a committee of people genuinely concerned for the interest of the whole nation and committed for social equality, including some representatives from the society, they should decide which categories require reservation and for how long.

The non-political committee, like autonomous commissions, should be the implementation authority; political authorities should supervise them for honesty and integrity.”

Is affirmative action a license to abuse?

The People’s Representation Act 1951 prohibits promotion of hatred between different classes of citizens on grounds of religion, race, caste, community, or language. The media rightly disapproves of communal remarks during the electioneering.

But why should it be less critical of statements designed to create caste divisions? Why was there no murmur of protest when Nitish Kumar categorised 21 of 22 dalit sub-castes (leaving out only Paswan) as ‘Mahadalits’? Why does it not criticise RJD for engaging Bhojpuri singer Chhotu Chhalia in the party’s public meetings for singing a song about upper caste oppression in Bihar before Lalu Prasad’s speech? Why is it tolerant of caste politics?

Why does it ignore Lalu Prasad’s admission that he allowed his one-time protégé Ram Kripal Yadav, presently with the BJP, to accumulate wealth as part of empowerment of the backward castes? (Indian Express, September 28)

Why is it alright for Lalu Prasad to ask about Amit Shah’s caste and religion? Is it not violative of the 1951 Act? Is it less reprehensible?

There is also a strong possibility that for many of the NDA voters particularly the ones from the upper castes, their ballot was a weapon to reject Lalu Prasad who has been ‘intolerant’ towards them.

Battle of the same kind

The fact is the Bihar election was a fight between political conglomerates both of which promoted hatred in the state. Both of them strived to create divisions for their benefit.

The biggest evidence of it being a battle between caste combinations was that even BJP-led National Democratic Alliance raked up the issues of beef, reservation for minorities and crackers in Pakistan only after it became clear that its combination of upper castes and mahadalits (Kachhis, Kachwahas, Koeris, Muraos, Paswans and Musahars) was not proving to be a match for the caste arithmetic (Muslims, Yadavs and Mahadalits etcetera)  put together by Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and the Congress coupled with Nitish’s development and pro-women persona.

Ultimately the difference between the two blocs was that one divided in the name of the caste while the other tried to split in the name of religion after its caste arithmetic failed. The former triumphed over the latter.

At the most the communal pitch pushed by the BJP was only a sub-plot, thrown in after the failure of the caste card.  Definitely not the central plot like caste which dominated the polls right through the five phases of the election.

JD (U) face Pawan Verma coined the credible counter narrative theme only after it became clear that the grand alliance was headed towards a two third majority. Even then it did not look to be in sync with what Lalu Prasad did thorough out the campaign. Besides the BJP, the narrative seemed to be a counter to Lalu’s caste polarisation, tacitly backed by Nitish Kumar.

Obviously, Verma gave a secular spin to caste narrative to pitch Nitish Kumar’s name for New Delhi as a possible counter to Narendra Modi for a later date.

Also if you claim there was a secular narrative indeed at work you are alluding that all RJD (18.5 percent), Janata Dal (United) (16.7 percent) and Congress (6.7 percent) voters have spoken out against communalism.

Also by implication it means that all BJP voters (24.8 percent – 91.5 lakh), Lok Janshakti Party (4.8 percent), Hindustani Awami Morcha of Jitan Ram Manjhi (2.2 percent) and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha voters have endorsed what was being propagated by fringe elements within the Sangh Parivar. To put it mildly, this is an erroneous and irresponsible assumption.

To say that secular ideology is what separates the Congress from the BJP applies more to the top stalwarts of the two political rival groups (no wonder, the central leaders like late Jawaharlal Nehru and L K Advani are also called ideologues).

Winning formula

For the cadre right up to MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) and MP (Member of Parliament) level what matters is which party is placed where relatively in the electoral arena at a given time.

Lack of ideology is what makes the MLAs, the MPs and even municipal representatives hop from one political dispensation to another.

Nitish work propped up caste votes

For the voters, the issues of bijli, sadak, paani, (power, roads and water), education, health and employment are of bigger significance than secularism or communalism for that matter.

This is where Nitish Kumar’s track record (he built roads, gifted cycles to girl students, reserved 50 percent seats for women in institutes of Panchayati raj and has offered 35 percent reservation to women in government jobs) shored up the MY vote bank of the RJD and whatever was left of the Congress base.

Right from the word go, there were no secular and communal blocs in the fray in Bihar. There were only caste coalitions.

They won and they lost.

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