A caste-based census is now a reality in Bihar with the Nitish Kumar government deciding to conduct it in a time bound manner in 9 months and complete it by March 2023.
The majority of the political parties including the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the RJD claimed that post the survey, the state government will be in a better position to make policies for marginalized people but the larger picture is to use it as a tool for a poll strategy against the BJP.
The saffron party has a clear poll strategy to polarize Hindu voters which are in a majority in the country with a 80% vote share while 20% belongs to other religious groups including the Muslim community. The poll ploy of the BJP was turning out to be a winner in states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and even in Bihar to a certain extent. This is how Narendra Modi became the prime minister of India for the second consecutive term.
In the context of Bihar, there are three major political forces with the BJP being the single largest party with 77 MLAs in the state assembly. The leaders of other political parties are looking at caste based surveys as a tool to defeat the BJP in Bihar.
As per the social structure of Bihar, the upper caste voters are considered core voters of the BJP and even the opposition parties do not deny it.
RJD vice president Shivanand Tiwari told IANS: "Everyone knows that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was formed by 5 Brahmin leaders and apart from Rajendra Singh who belongs to the Rajput caste, no one could occupy the president's post in the RSS. Mohan Bhagwat is the current chief of the RSS and also belongs to the Brahmin community."
"Keeping this in view, the BJP has concentrated on the upper castes. There is social inequality in the country both before and after independence. Hence, the then Indian government formed the OBC Commission in January 1953 to provide equal rights to all backward caste people in the country. That commission had also recommended that a caste based census be conducted in 1961. That caste based census did not happen due to some reasons at that time," Tiwari said.
"Now, it is a reality in Bihar. The political parties will know the exact numbers of particular castes and accordingly give participation in the party," Tiwari said.
If we analyse the voters in Bihar, OBC, EBC, Muslims are in large numbers compared to upper castes like Brahmins, Bhumihar and Rajput. Roughly, 19% upper caste, 16% Dalits, 17% Muslims, 16% Yadav and 38% OBC and EBC voters are there in the state. The political leaders are claiming that a caste based survey will be beneficial equally to the RJD, the JD-U, the left parties, the Congress and the BJP.
After the actual number of castes comes in the public domain, it would be easy for parties like the RJD, the JD-U, the Left parties and the Congress to convince voters belonging to OBC, EBC, Dalit, Yadav and the minority communities who are in large numbers in Bihar compared to upper caste voters. In case the BJP gives tickets to OBC, EBC Yadav candidates, there would be a factor of trust deficit in the minds of voters. They would have more trust in the candidates of the RJD, JD-U, Left and the Congress rather than the BJP.
The saffron party has supported the caste based census at the all party meeting and in cabinet meetings but that looks like its political compulsion to stay in power in the state. The BJP leaders know that if they did not support the issue, Nitish Kumar would still conduct a caste based survey in Bihar and there was also a possibility to change the government. The BJP leaders in the rank of Rajiv Pratap Rudy and state president Sanjay Jaiswal are not entirely satisfied with it.
Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who is a Rajput face of the BJP in Bihar said: "I don't know what would be the benefit of a caste based survey in Bihar. Instead of doing a survey of backward and forward castes, if we concentrate on pushing Bihar forward, it would be in the interest of all persons. All Bihari people will automatically be considered as forward in the country. If it would not happen, Bihar remains as a backward state and people belonging to upper castes in the state will be considered as backward in the country."
Sanjay Jaiswal, the state president of the BJP, raised concerns over whether Rohingya or Bangladeshi Muslims could add their names in the survey and claim citizenship of the country. He pointed out the UPA government goof-up in the 2011 socio-economic census.
"As per central government data, there are 3747 castes in our country. Such data was based on the 1931 caste based census. On the basis of the 2011 census, the UPA government had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court and mentioned 4.30 lakh castes. That census was not published in the public domain. So, the Bihar government should ensure that such a miscalculation does not take place in this caste based census," Jaiswal said.
"Muslim community people have a majority in the Seemanchal area of Bihar. In the Muslim community, Sheikhs are considered upper caste. Hence the state government should ensure that Sheikhs do not include their names in the category of Shikhore or Kulharia castes and take the benefits. Shikhore and Kulharia are considered as lower caste in Muslim community," he said.
The difference of opinion between the BJP and the JD-U can be established with the statement of CM Nitish Kumar as well. On Saturday, Nitish Kumar said: "Caste based survey will benefit every caste and community in the state. It will be done in a very good and effective manner. It will be in the interest of all people."
When he was asked about the concern of Sanjay Jaiswal that Muslims may benefit from it, he walked away from the media persons with a big smile on his face.
The caste based census earlier took place in 1931. At that time, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha were united. After the independence of the country, Brahmins had dominance in Bihar and it was reflected through four CMs -- Kedar Pandey, Bindeshwari Debey, Jagannath Mishra and Bhagwat Jha Azad who ruled the state before 1990. Sri Krishna Singh was the Bhumihar leader of the state who became the first chief minister of Bihar.
Then Lalu Prasad Yadav emerged as the leader of Bihar. At that time, there was huge social inequality in the state. Lalu Prasad whose politics was based on backward class people, gave them a voice to fight for their rights in Bihar. Hence, he is considered as the leader of social justice in the state.
Nitish Kumar also comes from a backward caste and he also knew that the core voters of the BJP are the upper castes.
Bihar has 243 seats in the assembly and 52 MLAs belong to the Yadav caste after the 2020 poll. Yadavs are considered core voters of the RJD and the party has 35 MLAs, Congress 1, CPM 1, CPI (ML) 2, BJP 7, JD-U 5 and VIP 1.
Keeping in view the RJD dominance among the Yadavs, Nitish Kumar has taken only two Yadav leaders Vijendra Prasad Yadav (JD-U) and Ram Surat Rai (BJP) into the cabinet.
As far as Brahmins are concerned, 13 MLAs were elected in the 2020 assembly election including 2 from the RJD, 5 from the BJP, 3 from the Congress, and 2 from the JD-U. As far as cabinet ministers are concerned, Mangal Pandey (BJP MLC), Sanjay Jha (JD-U MLC) and Alok Ranjan Jha (BJP MLA) are in the Nitish Kumar government.
Bhumihars have 21 MLAs in the Bihar assembly. The RJD gave a ticket to just 1 Bhumihar candidate and that was Anant Singh, the Bahubali leader of Mokama and he won the election. The Congress has 4 MLAs, the CPI has 1, BJP has 8 MLAs, JD-U has 5 MLAs. Raj Kumar Singh also won the 2020 assembly election on a LJP ticket and later merged with the JD-U.
Nitish Kumar has taken two Bhumihar MLAs into his cabinet -- Vijay Kumar Chaudhary (JD-U) and JIbesh Mishra (BJP).
The Rajput community has 28 MLAs including 5 cabinet ministers with three from the BJP -- Amrendra Pratat Singh, Subhash Singh and Neeraj Singh Bablu. From the JD-U, Lesi Singh and an independent MLA Sumit Singh who later supported the JD-U are cabinet ministers. The BJP has 16 Rajput MLAs, RJD has 6, one independent, JD-U 2, Congress 1, VIP 2 but the two VIP MLAs merged with the BJP. So the BJP's actual number is now 18.