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OpinionsMamata’s opposition to caste census is not helping INDIA allinace

Mamata’s opposition to caste census is not helping INDIA allinace


By Arun Srivastava

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's refusal to accept Nitish Kumar as the convener of the opposition I.N.D.I.A. bloc, while also expressing aggressive hostility to a caste census, has not gone down well among the backward caste people as well as Dalit and OBC leaders of Bihar and Jharkhand. Notwithstanding their political allegiance, even a section of the backward caste leaders belonging to the BJP feel that this stand of Mamata was aimed at undermining the stature of Nitish within I.N.D.I.A. and effectively humiliate him.

The ruling Mahagathbandhan leaders in Bihar strongly nurse the view that this statement from Mamata would severely damage the electoral prospects of I.N.D.I.A., not only in Bihar and Jharkhand, but also in Uttar Pradesh, and to some extent, even in Bengal. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar are viewed as the two sides of the backward caste . This news has even raised the political aspirations of the backward castes in eastern UP and in Bengal. Sources say the backward caste Biharis of Bengal, who at one stage were seeking solace in emergence of BJP as their voice, have not taken kindly to this remark by Mamata Banerjee.

JD(U) and RJD leaders argue that the emergence of I.N.D.I.A. as a serious challenger to Narendra Modi primarily owed to Nitish's untiring efforts to bring all the opposition parties and their leaders on board a common platform. No other opposition leader had ventured to take on this daunting initiative. The I.N.D.I.A. leaders are yet to unearth the real treason for Mamata putting her foot down and forcing others to fall in line. Her rigid stance has in fact surprised everybody. Just before the session started, it was widely expected that Nitish would be chosen as the convener of the coordinating committee of I.N.D.I.A. But it was Mamata's opposition that made the I.N.D.I.A. leaders retreat.

The RJD, JD(U) and even some academics close to Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party have already questioned the firebrand West Bengal CM's objection to caste-based census. They argue if she did not find virtue in the caste-based census, launched by Nitish, she should have opposed it in the beginning itself. Even Supreme Court on August 19 had observed that it cannot restrain the Bihar government from publishing the cumulative data or findings of the Bihar caste survey, unless there is a prima facie case to show violation of any constitutional right or lack of competence on the part of the state government.

Leaders in RJD, JDU rank claim that Mamata's objection to the caste-based census would simply strengthen BJP's case, which has been resorting to all sort of machinations to foil the move. They emphasise that Mamata being a senior politician should have comprehended the impact of her opposition to the caste census. These leaders also point out that taking a cue from Nitish's move, some other non-BJP states have been contemplating to launch this nature of census.

Besides, even some of the senior Left leaders do not endorse this objection from Mamata, and in fact some of them have not taken kindly to it. Top sources maintain that most of the I.N.D.I.A. leaders openly said that this position was not in tune with the overall direction of I.N.D.I.A. politics. The obvious tilt of the Opposition politics towards the poor and backward castes is not open to dispute.

Mamata ought to have realised that caste politics has been at the root of the electoral politics in almost all the eastern states, and even West Bengal is neck-deep in this kind of politics. Mamata has not kept her promise to the Matuas and Kudmis and other backward castes in Bengal and she is scared that this may be used by the BJP to erode her base. While almost all the parties, owing their birth to the Mandal politics, even the DMK of Stalin, have been campaigning for a caste-census, and Rahul Gandhi has also publicly supported the idea, it is strange that Mamata at this late a stage has put a spoke in the wheel.

Population demographic according to castes in Bihar include 5.7% Brahmins, 4.7% Bhumihar, 5.2% Rajputs, 14.4% Yadav, 4% Kurmi, 8% Kushwaha, 17% Muslims, 2% Kayastha, 6% Baniya, 3% Teli, 2% Mushahar and 4%Dusadh. In Jharkhand, the OBC count is 46%, while Dalits (SCs) stand at 12%, Tribals (STs) 26% and General 16%. A caste-based census has the potential to delink the OBCs from the BJP.

There are 40 Lok Sabha constituencies in Bihar. In the 2014 general elections, BJP had won 17 seats (23.58 per cent vote), JD(U) had bagged 16 (with 21.81 per cent vote share), LJP got 6 (7.86 per cent), RJD nil (but 15.36  percent of votes) and INC got 1 seat in the Lok Sabha.

There are 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in Jharkhand. BJP had won 11 seats, while AJSU party had 1, JMM 1, and INC 1. BJP has been trying to woo non-tribals as well as the tribals who haven't converted to Christianity. However, with Hemant Soren emerging as the adivasi face, the BJP is finding it tough to expand, or indeed retain its foothold. Who will emerge as the winner in the , the BJP or the Congress-JMM-RJD alliance, will depend on how the tribal versus non-tribal narrative plays out in the state.

While OBCs constitute 46.1 per cent of the Jharkhand population, Scheduled Tribes (STs) constitute 26.2 per cent. Whichever party manages to get a sizeable chunk of OBC and ST votes will be the winner. The BJP had introduced a new liberal domicile policy in 2016 with the aim of winning the non-tribals and OBCs, those migrated from Bihar and UP. It mandated that those who have lived and worked in Jharkhand for 30 years, and have acquired immovable properties, will automatically become residents of the state.

Mandal-based parties have been at the forefront of the campaign, and have often sought to counter the BJP's increasing popularity among the Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by strengthening the demand for a caste-based census. Mamata, with her one ill-conceived statement, has endangered the support base of the Mandal-based parties. The BJP has already been reaching out to its core support base the message that parties do not have consensus on this key issue. The JD(U), RJD and Congress leaders are scared of their upper caste supporters shifting their allegiance to BJP. In fact, Tejashvi had undertaken much hard work to bring the Rajputs into his party's fold.

Mamata's obtrusive stance has also badly affected the morale of the backward caste, especially Kurmi leaders of Purvanchal, eastern UP. They were just about to float the idea to field the “Convener of the I.N.D.I.A.” as their candidate from Fulphur, the constituency once represented by Jawaharlal Nehru. He was to be presented as the unifying factor before the electorates of the state. By objecting to Nitish becoming the Convener, Mamata had indirectly helped BJP.

Some of the backward caste leaders have also questioned the political knowledge of the caste equations and their broader implications on the social and economic features of the country. It is a proven fact that a scientific counting of caste groups secured by a caste-based census would not only help governments to reimagine their social justice plank but also broaden the scope of development goals.

Mamata should have seen how the BJP has been using the caste chemistry to win over the backward castes and Dalit votes from her own party in West Bengal. Upper-caste Hindu voters are in a dominant position in Bihar and Jharkhand. A small shift in the percentage of votes would ensure the victory of BJP in these two states. On the ground, the Mahagathbandhan governments in Bihar and Jharkhand, led by Nitish and Hemant Soren appear, to be in a commanding position, but a contradictory statement of this nature would simply reinforce the peoples' perception that the claim of opposition unity is simply an eyewash and farce.

The emergence of Mandal-based parties as forces driven by ideals of social justice prevented the growth of the BJP. In Bihar and Jharkhand, the BJP could emerge on political scene by exploiting the Fodder Scam.  The BJP patriarch LK Advani had used CBI to consolidate the BJP in Bihar and Jharkhand.

The Mumbai meet of the I.N.D.I.A. constituted three committees, but none of them have a convener. It is not clear which leader from among the committee leaders would convene the meetings and coordinate with the state parties. In Bihar, the Congress will ultimately be the worst sufferer. It has no independent support base. The entire lot has shifted to BJP. After the Mamata episode, the state RJD and JD(U) are feeling hurt that instead of clearly telling her off that the collective decision would not be changed to keep her in good humour, the Congress leadership decided to follow her unreasonable diktat.

The I.N.D.I.A. leaders nurse the view that the Mumbai meet proved to be a waste of time.  Most shared the view that no other leader enjoyed greater support for the key assignment than Nitish. The JDU leader after parting ties with the BJP undertook the mammoth task of bringing the secular parties together after aligning with the RJD and the Congress. The next meeting of I.N.D.I.A. will be held in Delhi in October. By that time, it would be too late to salvage the situation. Unfortunately, Mamata's stance does not reflect the need for flexibility and compromise, which almost all theI.N.D.I.A. leaders mentioned in their speeches.

(IPA Service)


The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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