Bihar bypoll: Nitish Kumar scrambles to woo Dalits, minorities

With the 2019 election drawing nearer, the Nitish govt in Bihar is on overdrive, dangling quotas and sops to woo Dalits and minorities. Whether these will have an impact will be seen in Jokihat bypoll

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@NitishKumar 
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@NitishKumar
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Navendu Sharma

With the 2019 Lok Sabha election drawing nearer and NDA’s popular support base slipping in Bihar, as reflected in bypoll reverses in March this year, the Nitish Kumar-led government has gone on an overdrive, dangling higher job quotas and other sops, to woo Dalits and minorities. The state government is trying to focus on Dalit and Muslim youth, in particular.

An early indication of whether the slew of steps initiated has swayed Dalits and minorities would be known on May 31, when the counting of votes for the Jokihat assembly seat bypoll will be held. This seat had fallen vacant following the resignation of sitting MLA Sarfaraz Alam, son of RJD leader late Taslimuddin, who had quit JD(U)
and his Vidhan Sabha seat to successfully contest the Araria Lok Sabha bypoll on an RJD ticket. NDA allies BJP and JD(U) had bitten the dust in Araria Lok Sabha seat and Jehanabad assembly seat bypolls, respectively, in March.

Since the issue of quota in government jobs is the most emotive for the SC/ST sections, CM Nitish Kumar said on Tuesday that the government may tweak SC/ST quota policy to provide them greater reservation. Addressing a meeting in West Champaran on Tuesday, he said, “After the 2021 census, reservation for SCs/STs shall be made commensurate with their population,” According to a report, however,
he also clarified that providing reservation to SC and ST members according to their population proportion was not in the hands of the state government.

Some other recently announced sops may not, on the face of it, appear so significant. But in the backdrop of the way distribution of bicycles among school girls and schemes for scholarship and school uniform endeared the Nitish government to people, these sops could help the state government draw the support of Dalit and minority youths.

Nitish needed to focus on Dalit and minority support as a recognised Dalit face—former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha leader Jitan Ram Manjhi—broke away from NDA and joined hands with Lalu Prasad’s RJD in February. Another JD(U) Dalit face Uday Narayan Chaudhary quit the party on May 2

In a pro-Dalit move, Nitish government on Saturday last decided to promote entrepreneurship among eligible SC/ST youth by providing a maximum sum of ₹10 lakh for starting a micro or small scale enterprise. Under the Mukhyamantri SC/ST Udyami Yojana, the government will provide a maximum of ₹10 lakh, with half of the project cost as subsidy and the balance as interest-free loan. The state cabinet has
cleared ₹102 crore as first instalment for the scheme for 2018-19.

In another decision, Nitish government decided to provide a sum of ₹50,000 to those SC and ST students who pass the Bihar Public Service Commission preliminary test for selection to state civil services, and ₹1 lakh to those selected in UPSC civil services prelims, to help them buy books and join coaching classes.

With minority students in mind, the state government has decided to open residential schools for students belonging to the community and studying in classes IX to XII. These schools will have modern facilities to teach arts, science, commerce and vocational courses. In another decision, a scheme will be launched to provide ₹1,000 per month as grant to students residing in minority hostels with immediate effect. This scheme, an official said, aims at spreading awareness about higher education and increasing its rate among them.

The state government already has schemes to provide allowances to all categories of youngsters in the job market and to provide education loans.

These sops have come barely a month after the Nitish government, on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti on April 14, decided to treat all scheduled castes people as one group and scrap the 12-year-old distinction among them. This will ensure that Dusadhs, also known as Paswans, numerically said to be the largest group among all scheduled castes, will get the benefits of all government schemes for SCs.

Soon after coming to power in 2005, the then Nitish government had categorised 21 of the 22 scheduled castes under ‘Mahadalit’ category, and undertaken special schemes for their uplift. Dusadhs, or Paswans, were excluded from the Mahadalit category on the specious logic that they were walking away with lion’s share of the government benefits meant for SCs. Scrapping of this distinction was a long-standing demand of Union minister and LJP supremo Ram Vilas Paswan, a tall leader of the Dusadh community, and the government’s decision has brought him closer to Nitish. Whether the community will continue to rally behind the NDA will be keenly watched.

Nitish needed to focus on Dalit and minority support as a recognised Dalit face—former chief minister and Hindustani Awam Morcha leader Jitan Ram Manjhi—broke away from NDA and joined hands with Lalu Prasad’s RJD in February. Another JD(U) Dalit face Uday Narayan Chaudhary quit the party on May 2. Muslims, on the other hand, are allegedly unhappy with Nitish joining hands with BJP again and the violence during Ram Navmi celebrations in the state in March this year.

Moreover, prohibition is alleged to have resulted into large-scale arrests of Dalits and Extremely Backward Class people, which is being used by Nitish-baiters to turn people against him.

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