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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 46-47 November 11 & November 18, 2023

Nitish’s transformative move on inclusiveness for the poor has big implications | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 11 November 2023


Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s politico-ideological narrative which he unleashed through caste census survey data on economic conditions of the people while would have trigger a significant alteration in the political system and its structure, it would imperil the move of the rightist forces to change the basic character and identity of the country.

It is a coincidence that Nitish commenced this task when Congress leader Rahul Gandhi embarked on the gigantic mission to bring about a complete ideological and political transformation of his party. It was the bitter realisation that upper caste feudal lords had turned irrelevant in the modern political situation and could not aspire to be the ideological vanguards, he started depending less on them and moving left to the centre. A closer look at his moves would make it abundantly clear that he launched the Bharat Jodo Yatra to send this across that Congress was changing.

Look at his style of functioning and his following speeches. It is evident that he has been trying to identify Congress with the aspirations of the poor people. His interactions with railway porters, farm labourers, mechanics and others send a clear message that Congress has changed. Yet another major development that needs attention is his frequent but conscious attack on RSS and his description of it as a rightist force.

Nitish’s move presents a major threat to the rightist hegemony is also evident from RSS and BJP deciding to launch sub-caste census. It is certainly a wake up call; what made the saffron ecosystem to take to this mechanism when till a fortnight back it strongly any such move.

It is a proven fact that frightened of the upsetting impact Nitish’s caste census would have on the Lok Sabha election, the saffron ecosystem has been working to launch the scheme of sub-caste census well before the process for the Lok Sabha starts. Through this exercise it also intends to identify the creamy layer of the backward and Dalits as its valued allies. The saffron ecosystem has come to realise that while it cannot completely depend on the upper castes, it must have a relook at its policy towards the backwards.

This arrangement according to the think-tank of the RSS, will snatch the initiative from Nitish and would also help win over a large section of the OBC and EBC people who were feeling neglected and nursed the feeling that a section of the caste who were well off and have reach to the power apparatus have grown over the years.

Initially, the RSS leaders had opposed the caste census move as according to their perception it would smash the basic structure of the castes, which is based on the principles of Manu and also prove to be a major stumbling block to accomplish its mission of turning India into a Hindu Rashtra. Now with Nitish proving to be a spoiler, they are making fresh efforts to salvage the situation and retrieve ground as much as they can.

Under their plan they are striving to keep the creamy layer of the castes with them on the plea of their being Hindus. Incidentally the affluent section of these castes has been with the BJP and have been the fanatic supporters of RSS’s politics of Hindutva. RSS is haunted by the fear of losing this section once Nitish starts actually implementing his inclusive programmes. Obviously before Nitish launches the progamme, RSS intends to implement its design to break the bigger structure of the caste conglomerate.

Though a decade back Nitish Kumar had created a mahadalit class in Bihar, ironically he could not turn it into a vehicle for ameliorating the socio-economic condition of the mahadalits. Nevertheless one thing is quite explicit that the move of Nitish would hasten up the process of decline of the savarna (upper caste) politics. Nitish undoubtedly has broken the political hegemony of the upper caste. The emergence of BJP as the ruling party has witnessed the resurrection of the savarna politics which had witnessed a decline with former prime minister VP Singh implementing 27 percent reservation for OBC communities. During saffron’s ten year rule the upper caste dominance has increased considerably.

In Independent India, the upper caste always dictated the political discourse. In the wake of implementation of Mandal policies it was perceived that upper caste would cease to have significant operative control on the political system of the state. But it proved to be wrong. They continued to exercise their. The only difference was they were made to share power with the representatives of backward castes, especially Yadavs, Koiris, Kurmis and Paswans, who eventually belonged to the creamy layer sections of the OBC, EBC and Dalits.

For upper caste the emergence of the backward caste leadership was unethical and at the same time also unacceptable. Primary this was reason they shifted their political allegiance to the BJP. RSS became quite proactive, reached out to the people especially the rural poor and set up large number of sakhas.

In a tacit manner Modi has been playing this subcaste card ever since he cameto power. He had come to realise the political and electoral importance of the OBC, EBC and Dalit people, who were out of the circle of the creamy layer. While reconstituting his council of ministers, he had told the media that the ministry had "record 27 OBCs as ministers", from Yadavs, Gurjars, Jats, Thakurs, Lodhs, and so on. The 12 Scheduled Caste ministers included a Chamar-Ramdassia, a Khatik, a Pasi, a Kori, a Madiga, a Mahar, a Arundathiyar, a Meghwal, a Rajbonshi, a Matua-Namashudra, a Dhangar and a Dusadh. Though RSS like Modi has been emphasising on OBC, EBC and Dalit being the integral part of Hindu community, it is Modi who has been playing the OBC, EBC card for electoral gains.

In fact the leaders close to Modi had been splitting the OBC, EBC and Dalit communities as separate political groups. Not only in UP, but also in Bihar it was keeping Yadavs away from it. Even a section of RSS leaders would try to convince non Yadav and Dalits of these two states that most gains from Mandal-based affirmative action had been cornered by Yadavs. This was the obvious reason for formation of political outfits to articulate the feelings and needs of the people belonging to these subcaste. This witnessed the formation of Om Prakash Rajbhar Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Sanjay Nishad’s NISHAD party, Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, or Anupriya Patel’s Apna Dal.

It is also argued that the sub-classification into “backward” and “more backward” arises because Article 16(4) of the Constitution recognises a category “backward class of citizens” and, therefore, ideally, sub-classification, if any, should be done for that only. Homogeneity of the SCs is based on the perception of domination and ill-treatment by the so-called upper castes, leading to their dismal socio-economic status.

Every caste has at least a dozen sub caste. Rajputs have ujjainia, Sisodias Kachwahas Rathores Jadejas Hadas Bhatis Shekhawats and Dogra. Yadavs are known as the Ahirs in the North and West India; The Ghosh or the "Goalas" and "Sadgopa" or Gauda in Bengal and Orissa; Dhangar in Maharashtra; Yadav and Kurubas in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and dayan and Konar in Tamil Nadu. There are four main sub-castes of Ahirs in Bihar, Kishnaut, Majhraut, Kannaujia or Kanyakubja and Ganerias.Similarly the Dalits and SCs have significant number of sub castes. Bhuiya, Chamar, Ravidassia, Mochi, Dusadh, Paswan, Halalkhor, Valmiki, Hela/Mehtar, Musahar, Nat. The upper caste Bhumihars have the largest number of poor members. These areTyagis of Western UP, Zamindar Bengali Brahmins, Niyogi Brahmins of Andhra Pradesh, Nambudiri Brahmin and Ezhavathy Brahmins of Kerala, Chitpavans of Maharashtra, AnavilDesais of Gujarat and Mohyals of Punjab.

In the sub caste hierarchy, the caste which heads the table is the prime beneficiary and enjoys a social recognition based on its economic strength. These are the castes in the OBC, EBC and Dalit sections which have benefitted most from the reservation. India occupies a special place in providing the preferential treatment to the disadvantaged classes for the longest period. The distribution of reservation benefits are very wide as the OBCs, EBC and SC castes are not a homogeneous group and split into various sub castes. Obviously the benefits of reservation have failed to reach to all the members of the caste. This in turn has given rise to creamy layer in these castes.

In most of the cases the sub castes owe their elevation to creamy layer based on the strength of their occupation and the land they possess. Those who do not own land are invariably poor. In Bhumihars and Yadavs since a large section of their population do not own land which is why they are poor. The worst has been the case of Ganderia of Yadavs. In most of the cases they earn their livelihood by performing manual labour. The Yadavs of Madhepura and Purnea much above other Yadavs for the simple reason that they own huge tract of land and have huge money. Till some years back they used to dictate the politics of Bihar.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has proved that neither RSS nor Modi could match his political craftsmanship and administrative acumen. Though the middle-class bakhts 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 inclusive understading of the relevance and importance of time.

Nitish on Tuesday decided to increase the cumulative reservation to 75 percent. What is most important is the proposal was ratified by the cabinet in the same evening. He would also initiate to measures to ensure the progress of the poor and marginalised sections of society. Bihar currently has a total reservation of 60 percent — 50 percent for the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and the Other Backward Castes (OBCs); and an additional 10 percent 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.

The report in fact did an incredible but pleasant service to the state in the form of exposing the myth that upper-caste people were affluent and possessed huge money. The survey exposed the bare fact that around 30 percent 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 and political activists were expecting that the government would also release the report on the nature of land holdings and which caste possesses the highest acreage of land. But the government did not release this 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 minuscule 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 paurisation of over all 40 per cent of the population.

Nitish’s announcement that his government would provide 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 rewadi for Modi, but the fact cannot be denied that it would boost the purchasing power of the hapless families. Surely this move of Nitish has more problems for Modi as other states would also come out with the demand for an increase in quotas. Only yesterday Odisha raised this issue. The findings have the potential to upset RSS and BJP politics. It would open the doors for a 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.

There is least doubt that the condition of the poor could have been ameliorated if Modi had conceded to Nitish’s demand to grant special category status to Bihar. A finance-crunched state could not be expected to do much to the poor. However 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.

Since Nitish’s socio-economic narrative has inflicted severe damage to the politics of Hindutva of RSS and BJP, it could be presumed that Modi will not undertake such an exercise at a national level. The upper caste people who had a strong feudal mentality and even a poor person belonging to this section treats himself to be a feudal lord, would prove to be 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 caste 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 the benefit they ought to have got.

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