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After Caste Survey Report, BJP ‘Nervous and Uncomfortable’ in Bihar

As a face-saving mechanism, BJP leaders are demanding that socio-economic data should also be released, which Nitish Kumar had already announced.
Enumerators during the first phase of the caste-based census in Patna on January 7. | PTI

Enumerators during the first phase of the caste-based census in Patna on January 7. Image Courtesy: PTI

Patna: Four days after the Mahagathbandhan- government led by Nitish Kumar made the findings of the much awaited “caste survey”, locally known as Jati Adharit Ganana, public, there are clear signs that the opposition BJP and its allies are nervous and uncomfortable. This is visible in the way BJP leaders and its allies are questioning the authenticity and outcome of the caste survey, mainly the population percentage of different castes in the state.

Though former Union ministers Ravi Shankar Prasad, a senior BJP leader, and Upendra Kushwaha, chief of Rashtriya Loktantrik Janata Dal (RLJD), a BJP ally, have publicly claimed that no enumerators visited their houses in Patna to collect information about the caste survey, the Patna district administration officers have refuted their allegations. They said there was valid proof that data was collected from their houses.

The problem with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies is that its rank and file did not show any enthusiasm at the time of collection of data for the caste survey, confident that the court would not allow such a survey to be completed.

Now that the report is out, BJP leaders are crying foul. But after sensing the political fallout of the report ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, BJP and its allies seem reluctant to oppose the survey and are raising questions only as a face-saving mechanism. This is why they are demanding that the government should also present the socio-economic data of the survey.

The fact is that soon after the caste survey report was released on October 2, none other than Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said that his government would come out with survey data that would reveal the real socio-economic condition of different castes.

Leaders of BJP and its allies have also alleged large-scale irregularities in the caste survey data and demanded revision of data. Some of the leaders, including BJP state president Samrat Choudhary and allies including Kushwaha, former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi of Hindustan Awam Morcha and Lok Janshakti Party (Ramvilas) chief Chirag Paswan have questioned the survey data that shows a rise in percentage of Yadav (Other Backward Classes or OBC) population and decline of a few Extremely Backward Classes or EBCs, and upper caste population. However, they have failed to present any data to compare it with because the last caste census took place in 1931 during British rule. In fact, there is no official data to compare with.

Ironically, BJP and allies are also silent over the fact that the population of the Scheduled Castes or Dalits has registered a big rise in the caste survey as compared to the 2011 country-wide Census. As per 2011 Census, the Dalit population was 15.9% of Bihar’s total population but in the latest caste survey data, they are 19.65%, including Dusadh or Paswans at 5.31% followed by Ravidas or Chamar at 5.25%. There is a rise of 3.75% in the overall Dalit population during the last 12 years. Similarly, the Scheduled Tribes or Adivasi population has also risen from 1.28% (2011 Census) to 1.68%.

However, in keeping with BJP’s politics of hyping anything related to Muslims, party leaders are highlighting the rise of 0.7 to 0.8% in the state’s Muslim population. According to the caste survey report, the Muslim population rose from 16.9% to 17.7% in comparison to the 2011 Census.

A saffron-clad BJP MLA, Hari Bhushan Thakur, who has emerged as a firebrand Hindutva icon in the state, on Thursday demanded that Bihar be declared a Hindu state.

“As of now the Hindu population in the state is over 81%, according to the Bihar caste survey report, so Hindus represent the majority. Hence, the state should be declared a Hindu state”, he said.

Thakur alleged that the motive of the caste survey was to divide Hindus by Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad.

However, till a few weeks ago, Kumar’s Janata Dal-United, a major ally in the ruling Mahagathbandhan, repeatedly questioned the top BJP leadership for openly obstructing the caste survey within the state.

Several JD-U leaders targeted the BJP for attempting to disrupt the survey. Leaders of JD-U and ally RJD attributed interference from the Central government in the Supreme Court (SC) as an attempt to undermine the ongoing caste survey.

The differences between the ruling coalition and BJP revolve around intervention by the Central government in the hearing of petitions challenging the Patna High Court's decision to proceed with the caste survey in Bihar.

Political commentator DM Diwakar told Newsclick that BJP was nervous since the data of caste survey was released as its top leadership fears that the party may lose support of OBCs.

One thing is certain, the opposition alliance, INDIA, is going to reap benefits of the caste survey report because people have understood that the initiative for this was taken by Lalu, Kumar and Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav, a young leader. BJP is nervous and scared of the survey report because now it is not easy to play its old Hindu-Muslim divide game for polarisation, he said.

“Since long, the BJP has been opposing a caste survey. Two or three years ago, the BJP-led Central government refused to conduct a nationwide caste survey. Only after that the Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar decided to conduct it from own resources and completed it. If state BJP leaders are questioning it to keep the central leadership happy, this will not work on the ground” said Diwakar, former director of the AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna.

Political watchers here feel the caste survey report was made public by the Mahagathbandhan government to play the ‘Mandal card’ to consolidate its social support base among OBCs, EBCs and Dalits against BJP’s Hindutva card.

“The Mahagathbandhan’s major allies, RJD and JD-U, enjoy overwhelming support among Yadavs, Kurmis, EBCs, Dalits and Muslims, which will be further cemented by the survey report. Kumar has made it clear that they will work for the development of all, particularly those lagging and backward,” he said,

Diwakar seems right as the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), a small regional party in the state, has welcomed the caste survey report. VIP founder-president and former state minister Mukesh Sahani praised the Mahagathbandan government and spoke with Kumar and Yadav on the phone.

Sahni’s caste, Nishad or Mallah, is 2.61% of Bihar’s total population. Last month, during his ongoing Nishad Aarakshan Yatra, Sahni hinted at joining the opposition alliance INDIA ahead of next year's polls. In recent months Sahni, popularly known as the son of Mallah—a community of boatmen and fishermen—expressed his unhappiness with the BJP for its “failure to provide reservation”.

This was probably the first time in the country that a caste survey report was released 92 years after the last caste census was conducted.

According to the Bihar caste survey report ,there are 215 castes in Bihar and total population of Bihar is 13.7 crore that includes 36% Extreme Backward Classes (EBCs,) 27% Other Backward Classes (OBCs),( OBCs and EBCs together account for 63%), 19% SCs (Dalits) and 1.68% STs (Adivasis).

It is significant to note that the population of SCs has increased in the state after the 2011 census. Similarly, there is a slight increase of Muslims. But the population of Upper Castes, locally known as Sawarn, has come down 15.52%, including 2.86% Bhumihar, 3.66% Brahmin,3.45% Rajput and 0.60% Kayasth. The remaining 4.8% are upper castes among Muslims, including Syed, Sheikh, Pathan.

As per the report, Chief Minister Kumar’s caste Kurmi’s population is 2.87% and his main ally RJD chief Lalu ’s caste Yadav’s population is 14.26%, one of the highest among all the castes.

The BJP’s state president Samrat Kushwaha’s caste Koeri or Kushwaha (OBC) population is 4.21%. The caste survey report revealed that the total Hindu population is 81.9%, followed by 17.7% Muslims, 0.05% Christians,0.01% Sikh,0.08% Buddhists,0.0096% Jains and the remaining from other religions.

In the caste-ridden politics of Bihar, the caste survey report and its data has already heated politics.

The report is expected to strengthen the demand for raising the quota for OBCs, who are estimated to be more than 50% of the population and at present get 27% reservation.

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