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9 Reasons Why Numbers Revealed by Bihar Caste Census Could Shake Up National Politics

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The BJP’s argument rests on Hindus accepting their place in the larger Hindutva tent, and the only dividing line to be one of against minorities. Caste numbers emerging could upend all that.

With the Opposition firmly casting its lot in favour of a caste census, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had already been pushed into a corner. Now, with the numbers and data coming in, allowing people to project what the situation in the rest of the country might be, as regards the ‘Backward-Forward’ cleavage, there are implications on politics and imagination.

An account of caste by cold numbers emerging threatens the BJP’s manifesto for 2024.

1. Historically, whether Gandhi in Champaran, Jaiprakash Narayan in Sitab Diara or Lalu Prasad in Phulwaria, Bihar has been seen to lead from the front when it comes to crafting a political opposition with national consequences. The Bihar government’s steady plod pushing through a caste census, at a time when the Modi government is unable to even hold the routine decadal census, let alone a caste census, sends out a clear political signal that it can be done at an all-India level. Odisha and Jharkhand’s socio-economic caste ‘surveys’ are ongoing. BJP will be harder pressed to explain why it cannot be done nationally.

2. The Hindu ‘majority’ argument takes a beating as this quantifies a sense of the real majority that exists. Sanatan Dharma is being pitched as a key weapon to attack the Opposition after Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader Udhayanidhi’s comments on it. Modi himself has led the attack. But this will be busted by the data. To the extent that Sanatan Dharma is seen to be about maintaining caste hierarchies eternally (Sanatan). OBC + SC + ST = 84% of the population, said the Opposition as it did the math may force the BJP to rethink that route. A keen awareness of the massive caste divide fostered by caste numbers, as opposed to a Hindu-Muslim one, which the BJP would like to impose as the only one, spells trouble for the BJP.

3. The Modi government went ahead in 2019 with the controversial 10% Economically Weaker Section reservations. The judiciary helped and waived off the 50% ceiling for it. With the so-called ‘General’ (saamanya, read ‘upper castes’) category now getting revealed to be a mere 15.52%, and if extrapolated all-India, it is a tough call to defend why OBCs should be content with a relatively low percentage of the pie, so disproportionate to their share in population while the ‘General’ get to have their cake? Essentially, who will defend, 10% for 15.2%, but only 27% for 63.13% of the population, which is what 36.01% (Extreme Backward Castes) + 27.12% (OBCs) adds up to.

4. In the past decade, the support for the BJP among OBCs has seen a sharp rise. To hold onto that is key to any hopes it may have of coming back to power in May 2024. Already nervous about the Opposition pivoting to turning into a wide network of OBCs, that too ‘non-dominant’ OBCs as chief ministers and in the state leadership (Siddaramaiah, M.K. Stalin, Pinarayi Vijayan, Bhupesh Baghel and Ashok Gehlot, to name just the chief ministers), and with numbers now revealing the disparity between who has real power and who does not, keeping the 44% of the OBCs who voted for the BJP in 2019 onside could prove to be a challenge.

Last week, Rajasthan chief minister, Ashok Gehlot in very striking remarks put his caste identity as a ‘non-dominant’ OBC in Rajasthan out upfront as he called for a “mali or gardener model of good governance,” where all kinds of flowers and flora flourish. Rahul Gandhi has re-emphasised, that of the 90 secretaries to the government of India, only three are OBCs. Being the sole OBC party, which the BJP has been keen to project itself becomes hard to prove once data on disparity is out.

5. The BJP has always called for ‘samrasta’ or harmonious stability and not ‘samajik nyay’ or social justice, with its pitch to OBCs and Dalits being one of accommodation, but within the Hindutva framework. Such a stark contrast between numbers and where they stand in their share in power challenges ‘accommodation’. A call for justice becomes hard to bottle up.

6. The BJP had led from the front this year, calling for nixing reservation for Muslims, trying to whip up communal divides by making it ‘Muslim versus all else’, and arguing till as far as the Supreme Court to justify why reservation for Muslim backwards needed to be nixed. The Supreme Court Bench asked tough questions which led the former Basavaraj Bommai government in Karnataka to freeze its policy.

In Telangana, on April 24, home minister Amit Shah openly pitched for scrapping any quota for Muslim backwards calling it “unconstitutional”. But with cold numbers emerging on where the divides and disparities are, it would be tough to argue that Muslims are creaming off benefits meant for others. The BJP cannot be faulted for not trying. BJP MP Sanjay Jaiswal is quoted by BBC Hindi as saying that the “rightful due of Backwards has been cut into by Lalu and Nitish including Kulhadiya and Shershahbadi, upper caste Muslims amongst Backwards”. But Jaiswal hastened to add that it was the BJP’s finance minister in the state who allocated Rs 500 crore for the caste census in the state.

7. The BJP had been hurt badly in 2015 by Rashtriya Syawamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat expressing his feelings about reservation in an interview to Organiser and Panchjanya. This time, he has gone out of his way to say that the RSS is okay with caste reservations for as long as is necessary. But the fact remains that caste sits very uneasily in the Sangh’s scheme of things. The divisions pointing to inequity and rank discrimination are not merely one of many faultlines in India but an essential feature of social and political life in the sub-continent. A caste census with numbers of socio-economic status makes the numbers hard to ignore, wish away or divert from.

8. Memories of the Mandal Commission in the 1990s (which recommended 27% reservation for OBCs in employment) and how it put the kamandal (call for Hindufication) on the back foot, forcing the BJP to rework its strategy spring to mind. There are two reports now under review by the BJP, the Rohini Commission looking at the central OBC list which has submitted its report and UP’s committee, a four-member social justice committee headed by retired Allahabad high court judge Justice Raghvendra Kumar to examine a division of the OBC quota appointed by chief minister Adityanath in May 2018 waiting to be adopted or acted upon. Both called for ‘sub-categorisation’ amongst OBCs.

The BJP’s ideological predecessor, the Jana Sangh, vociferously opposed ‘sub-categorisation’ when Karpoori Thakur in Bihar, E.M.S. Namboodripad in Kerala, Karnataka’s Devraj Urs and others went ahead and introduced it. It is prevalent in 11 states at present. The BJP, as a smart tactic, may have wanted to consider this in 2017-18, to take down the ‘dominant’ OBC castes. But now, with the political scenario changing dramatically after its re-election in 2019, and of the BJP’s total votes, 48.9% coming from across almost all OBCs, including so-called ‘dominant castes’, would it risk rocking its boat by ‘sub-categorisation’?

9. The BJP’s strategy, and a successful one so far, has been to divide OBCs as a category. It woos numerically smaller OBCs, but separately, to prevent a sense of a consolidated OBC group or Backward-Forward divide emerging. When such a divide emerged in 2015 in Bihar’s Assembly Election when Lalu and Nitish first came together, it led to the BJP shrinking to merely 53 seats in the Bihar Assembly and down to party number 3.

The emergence of numbers after a census is a significant move and will cause a disruption. It is worth watching out for it to unfold, going into 2024.

source by : the wire

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