October 9, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Bihar caste survey results will affect the BJP. We also look at the tiger deaths in Tamil Nadu, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Will the Bihar caste survey results affect the BJP?
Jaati hai ki jaati nahi (It’s caste, that doesn’t go away), wrote Baccha Lal ‘Unmesh’ commenting on the social immobility of caste. However, in a not-so-similar sense, as much as the caste census-resistant BJP would have expected the ‘caste issue’ to go away, it has yet again resurfaced in the state of Bihar with the state government releasing the results of its caste “survey”.
Caste, touted as Bihar’s ‘essential truth’, saw the state embroiled in a violent period in the ’90s. While such times are unlikely to return, this time the caste census’ fallout is expected to be pan-Indian. In such circumstances, will a BJP looking to unite all Hindus under the saffron flag be able to withstand the caste currents?
On October 2, the Nitish Kumar-led Government of Bihar released initial data from its nationally anticipated caste ‘census’. The last time such a survey was conducted, the Mahatma was breaking the Salt Law (1930). The survey revealed that of the 13 crore population of Bihar, the Economically Backward Classes (EBCs at 36%) and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs at 27%) comprised nearly 63% of the state’s population with the dominant savarnas at a meagre 15%.
In June 2021, the Government of India clarified in the Lok Sabha that the 2021 Census (which is yet to happen) shall not have a caste count. The issue however had a considerable demand from several factions in the country as it not only allows governments to plan policies better but also helps social groups in power projection. After the failure of two Nitish Kumar-led delegations in convincing the Centre to change its stance, on June 1, 2022, the Bihar Assembly unanimously (BJP included) decided to go ahead with the caste census. However, the Patna High Court stayed the exercise since conducting surveys is a prerogative of the Centre. The Bihar government then renamed the exercise to a “survey” which got it even the Supreme Court’s clearance.
The survey shows that the EBCs with 112 castes comprise the largest chunk of the population with a 36.01% share; with 29 castes and a 27.12% share, the OBCs are the second largest contingent of the population. The Yadavs, with a 14.26% share, are the dominant caste in the OBC group. The Scheduled Castes population is pegged at 19.65% while the number of the general unreserved population is 15.52%. Bihar’s politics in its turbulent era had at times revolved around genocidal calls against savarnas to ‘cut brown hair’ (Bhu-Ra Baal Kaato- Bhumihars, Rajputs, Bamans/Brahmins) who now appear to constitute a minority in the state and demand for reservation on that basis.
OBCs are dominant communities across several states and the Congress is promising a caste survey for all of them. The BJP, however, has decided to stick to its narrative of empowerment of the backward communities through social welfare as well as the larger Hindutva plank. Even the state BJP which had supported the ‘census’ is now calling it hogwash as state surveys are likely to increase the calls for a national caste census.
Since the Mandal Commission report was accepted by the VP Singh government, the number of OBC MPs in 1989 suddenly spiked to 21% from 11% in 1984 and continued to surge until 2004, when it peaked at 26%. As now calls for ‘Jiski Jitni Bhagedari, Utni Hissedari‘ (representation proportional to population) rise, even the BJP’s ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), is opening up to OBC engagement. The BJP, however, proposes a different model of development.
VIEW: Caste divides the Hindu vote bank
Many in the INDIA bloc believe the Bihar caste survey could be the beginning of the second phase of Mandal-Kamandal politics (Backward/Forward Caste politics), making it difficult for the BJP to sell the unifying Hindutva narrative. The first Mandal-Kamandal wave had people self-immolating on the streets of the national capital and gave rise to stalwart oppressed patriarchs like Lalu Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav. They had kept the BJP at negligible levels in their states for several elections. The current survey results also firmly establish the Yadav scion in Bihar as Rashtriya Janta Dal’s (RJD) traditional supporters (Yadavs) have emerged as the single-largest caste group (14.26%).
While BJP had secured 39/40 seats in the 2019 elections from Bihar, it was in coalition with Nitish Kumar, who has since deserted the party, and also rode on the influence of the late Ram Vilas Paswan whose son, now ousted from his party, represents a fragment of the force his father was. While the BJP is trying to hold on to as many of these seats as possible by including defected leaders such as Upendra Kushwaha (Kushwaha caste – 4.21%), it’s unlikely to be effective.
The EBCs have also emerged collectively as a strong influential group in the survey. The incumbent Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is claimed to command this very EBC vote-bank including communities like the Mallahs, Nais, Nonias, Dhanuks, and Kahars. He also harbours PM aspirations and might emerge as the INDIA bloc’s PM candidate if it chooses to push its backward classes-focused campaign. Such a move holds the potential to dent BJP’s sweeping aims in much of the heartland where the OBCs, like in Bihar, are likely to be a majority in a region which sends a determining number of MPs.
COUNTERVIEW: BJP’s works are beyond caste lines
The BJP so far has stuck to its game plan of pitching OBCs as part of the wider Hindutva umbrella and showing their upliftment under the Modi government’s social welfare model as a sign of progress. The party reasons that social justice politics based on reservation has its limitations. It rather works towards its own version of ‘samagra samajik nyay’ (holistic social justice) by working for the poorest of the poor. This approach by the BJP has created a new constituency of ‘labharthis’ (benefit seekers) who have helped the BJP dilute the politics of caste identity, and avoid OBC consolidation against them even in caste-dominant states like Uttar Pradesh.
In the nine years of Modi government, 500 million Jan Dhan accounts have been opened where Direct Benefit Transfer for things such as electricity, pucca houses, drinking water, toilets, etc. happens without transmission loss. The bulk of these beneficiaries are from the backward classes. The PM also exhorts his party cadre to organise outreach programmes to make this section of the electorate aware of the benefits and engage them in governance.
The Mandal-Kamandal dichotomy has been blunted since Modi’s arrival at the national scene, himself an OBC leader, and some claim the most popular one to date. Modi’s arrival has also helped the BJP in being a Baman-Baniya exclusive party.
The BJP argues that even the mandated 27% OBC reservation hasn’t been completely implemented at the state level yet. It also argues that 9,000 of the 15,000 notified OBC communities do not get the benefits of reservation as it has been accumulated in the dominant groups among OBCs. The Justice Rohoni Commission was set up to look into the matter whose report is yet to be made public.
The BJP is not bereft of OBC politics. Still, it claims its version to be one without caste identity which plans to deliver social justice with the development of the marginalised rather than just reservation.
- How will Bihar caste census data impact BJP’s OBC narrative in polls? – India Today
- The impact of the Bihar caste survey | Explained – The Hindu
- Bihar caste survey: What it means for BJP, Congress, JDU, RJD & how it will affect 2024 polls – The Economic Times
- Four takeaways from Bihar caste survey: On its significance, possible impact on elections – The Indian Express
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) BJP will be affected by the Bihar caste data.
b) BJP will not be affected by the Bihar caste data.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
When data is deployed to exaggerate, to deceive
For the Left:
Rahul Gandhi Crafts His Own Narrative, Separate From Congress
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Film summit (Delhi) – The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) will host the third edition of the Biennial Audio-Visual Archival Summer School (BAVASS) in New Delhi from October 10-19. The 10-day event will cover several topics concerning audio-visual preservation. Applicants will be taught by international faculty from several places like the British Film Institute, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archives). It’ll include lectures and hands-on training sessions.
Why it matters: Martin Scorcese said the Foundation’s World Cinema Project has supported the BAVASS and its work has had an impact on film preservation in India and other countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Amitabh Bachchan said the event coming to India is a testament to the quality of the curriculum developed in partnership with the FIAF.
Death of Nilgiris tigers (Tamil Nadu) – Between August 16 and September 19, 10 Nilgiris tigers died. A new report from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) said nothing was alarming about these deaths given the current population growth and the dispersal dynamics in the landscape. The report stated their survival was dependent on population density. An adult tigress delivered 2-3 cubs and they have a 50% mortality rate. The death of 2-week-old cubs in the Segur area could be due to their weak health.
Why it matters: The NTCA is an apex body that provides guidelines to tiger reserves on the protection and management of tigers at reserves. In the current scenario, the deaths of four cubs in the Chinna Coonoor area could be due to prolonged starvation since the mother left them unattended. Some died due to infighting since it’s common for carnivores like tigers to fight for territory and resources.
Making courts accessible (Jharkhand) – The Jharkhand High Court directed the state government to provide disabled-friendly infrastructure to all courts, quasi-judicial bodies, and tribunals within six months. The court said the state was mandated under law to provide such facilities within five years of the notification of the 2017 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Rules. The court was hearing a PIL filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) Jharkhand chapter asking the government to provide wheelchairs in all courts.
Why it matters: In June, the high court asked the state government to file counter affidavits, but since none were filed, it assumed the government had no objection to the petition. While activists welcomed the high court order, they said more needs to be done to ensure the judiciary remains accessible and barrier-free. They also want sign language and braille to be accepted in legal proceedings.
Annual HADR (Goa) – The annual Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) – ‘Chakravat’ will be held in Goa from October 9-11 to showcase the capabilities of multiple agencies and the armed forces. The exercise is the result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s directive during the 2015 Combined Commanders’ Conference. The 2023 edition will see participation from eight countries in the Indian Ocean region. The event will showcase disaster and humanitarian crisis responses since they’re among India’s vision for the oceans – SAGAR or Security And Growth for All in the Region.
Why it matters: HADR operations are an important component of the Indian Navy’s Benign Role since climate change has increased the vulnerability of the Indian Ocean region to natural disasters. The Indian Armed Forces have been increasingly called into action to assist in disaster situations for allies and partners in the region.
Cause of flash floods (Sikkim) – Using satellite data, the state government has determined that the recent flash floods were caused due to the detachment of one of the side walls of the moraine at Lhonak Lake. It led to the lake’s water level increasing. The measurements of the detached part are estimated to be 600m in length, 225m high, and 150m wide from the lake’s surface level. It detached and plunged into the lake, resulting in a large overflow of water.
Why it matters: The flash floods caused water levels at the Teesta River to increase by 50-60 feet. State government estimates say over 140 people are missing, with 26 bodies recovered downstream. Several camps of the Indian army along the river have been washed away. National Highway 10 (NH 10) has been rendered unusable due to damaged roads.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
2,26,450 – Amid a diplomatic standoff between India and Canada, search platform Erudera’s data showed India had the most study permit holders in 2022 in Canada, with 2,26,450 students.