Bihar OBC leader Karpoori Thakur gets Bharat Ratna—just in time for Lok Sabha polls?

A trailblazing socialist leader, the former Bihar chief minister's reservation policies in the 1970s laid the foundation for the Mandal Commission recommendations decades later

Image of Karpoori Thakur from a 1991 postage stamp (photo courtesy me_ganesh14/X)
Image of Karpoori Thakur from a 1991 postage stamp (photo courtesy me_ganesh14/X)
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NH Political Bureau

Months before the Lok Sabha polls, Karpoori Thakur—prominent socialist, OBC leader and former chief minister of Bihar—has been awarded India's highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, posthumously.

Rashtrapati Bhavan and the PMO both announced the award today, 23 January, the eve of his 100th birth anniversary.

Born in Samastipur, Bihar, Thakur served two terms as chief minister and was widely known as 'jan-nayak' for his advocacy of the Other Backward Classes (OBC).

A trailblazer in mobilising these communities, he played a pivotal role in securing 26 per cent reservation for them in Bihar's government services in November 1978.

PM Modi described him as a beacon of social justice in a post on X today:

I am very happy that the Government of India has decided to honour the great leader of social justice, Karpoori Thakur-ji, with Bharat Ratna. On the occasion of his birth centenary, this decision will make the citizens proud. Karpoori-ji's unwavering commitment and visionary leadership for the upliftment of the backward and the deprived has left an indelible mark on the socio-political scenario of India. This Bharat Ratna is not only a humble recognition of his incomparable contribution, but it will also further promote harmony in society.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on late OBC leader Karpoori Thakur

Thakur's initiatives laid the groundwork for the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations in the 1990s, advocating for reservation for the OBC.

Having faced imprisonment during the Quit India Movement, Thakur enjoyed enduring popularity, consistently winning elections from 1952 onwards, owing to his broad appeal, rooted in a humble lifestyle and steadfast dedication to advancing social justice.

Karpoori Thakur actively championed the rights of marginalised communities throughout his life, including the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as well as OBCs. His unwavering commitment to social justice and inclusive development stood as a foundational element of his political ideology.

The award seems a timely gesture from the BJP-led government in the context of the recent caste survey held in Bihar, where current chief minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) has pushed for enlargement of reservations for the marginalised people and criticised the central government's reluctance to undertake a proper nationwide caste census.

Is this the BJP playing a game of oneupmanship? And will it work to sway the anti-incumbent voter banks?

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