Resurgence of OBC politics may put BJP on backfoot in run up to 2024 Lok Sabha election
NCP has demanded a caste-based census in Maharashtra even as Bihar is gearing up to conduct such an exercise after the proposal was approved by the state cabinet
Resurgence of OBC politics in Bihar is now spreading to other states including Maharashtra where the NCP renewed its demand for a caste-based census on June 2, the day the Bihar state cabinet led by JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar approved a proposal by the general administration department (GAD) to conduct a caste-based population count in the state by February 2023.
It is a clear indication of revival of OBC politics across the country before the Lok Sabha election of 2024, even as the BJP has intensified its Hindutva politics to keep its flock together, chiefly by raising new temple-mosque controversies as well as other emotive issues against Muslim minority. The BJP has even attempted to rattle Bihar CM Nitish Kumar by demanding a population control law, while its leaders are engaged in not only raising Kashi and Mathura controversies but also are talking of bringing Common Civil Code.
However, the BJP will have to prepare for a tightrope walk before the Lok Sabha election to keep a balance between the resurging OBC politics, which can potentially alienate OBCs from BJP, and its own Hindutva politics that unites them as Hindutva force.
The dichotomy of the BJP is even exposed by its leaders supporting caste-census in Bihar but opposing it in other states and for the country. “Isn’t it amazing!” says leader of opposition in Bihar Vidhan Sabha Tejashwi Yadav of RJD.
Politics in Bihar is still dominated by OBC politics though there is also considerable influence of Hindutva politics among the voters. The importance of the cabinet nod for caste census in the state lies in the fact that the decision was taken at an all-party meeting presided over by the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on June 1.
The Chief Secretary of the state, Amir Subhani, has said that a notification in this regard would be issued soon which will contain the necessary details including the plan execution.
The census, along with economic enumeration plan, would be conducted with the state’s own resources that would entail an expenditure of Rs 500 crore to be made available from the contingency fund, he added.
The Bihar Vidhan Sabha had passed resolutions unanimously on February 18, 2019 and February 27, 2020 demanding a caste-based census. Later, an all-party delegation under the leadership of CM Nitish Kumar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 23, 2021 to press the demand for the caste census. It was a 10-member all-party delegation which also included the leader of opposition in the Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav, former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, ministers in the Bihar government Janak Ram, Mukesh Sahani and Vijay Kumar Choudhary, Leader of Congress Legislature Party Ajit Sharma, Suryakant Paswan of the CPI, Mahboob Alam (CPI-ML), Akhtarul Imam (AIMIM), and Ajay Kumar (CPI-M).
CM Nitish Kumar had said at that time that he told the Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the proposal regarding case-based census came from the leader of opposition in Bihar Assembly Tejashwi Yadav with which everyone had agreed.
"Caste-based census should happen not only in Bihar, but in the entire nation. It will help proper diversion of resources. It is inevitable. It will be a historic measure in helping the poor. If animals and trees can be counted, then why not people on castes. When the government has no scientific data on the population, how can it make welfare policies," Tejashwi Yadav had said.
The Modi government, however, has refused to enumerate the population caste-wise, except for those from the SCs and STs.
CM Nitish Kumar clarified on this point and said, “The Centre expressed its inability. It does not mean the BJP was opposed to it at any point of time. Their representatives accompanied us when we met the PM.”
Nitish Kumar is perhaps right, because the moves of the PM Narendra Modi clearly indicates his priority for OBC politics now which is even reflected in his cabinet or choice of leaders in several other fronts giving larger roles to OBC leaders. Not only that, BJP leaders are also allowed to back OBC politics and the caste census, obviously to prevent poaching of OBC leaders in BJP by the other political parties that survive on OBC politics.
In Maharashtra, the initiative was taken by the NCP by asking the Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to call an all-party meeting to discuss the matter and take a decision. In the meeting held on June 2, presided over by NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, several leaders raised their pitch for enumerating the population on caste lines to ascertain the social status of different communities.
State Water Resource Minister Jayant Patil, who is also the state NCP chief, said, “It is necessary to conduct a caste-based census. This is NCP’s demand. On behalf of NCP, I am going to urge the Chief Minister today to call an all-party meeting on the issue.”
NCP supremo Sharad Pawar is also known for supporting the concept of caste census. On May 25, while addressing a meeting of NCP’s OBC cell, he said that such an exercise was necessary to ensure social equality. “We are not asking anything for free. There is no option but to conduct a caste-based census,” he had observed.
STs and SCs benefited owing to reservation granted by the Constitution of India, and OBCs deserve similar concessions which can be possible only if the government knows the exact population of OBCs.
Views are personal