Survey done, why Nitish is extending olive branch to ‘upper’ castes with EWS quota in judicial services

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Patna: The Bihar government has announced a 10 percent quota in the ‘unreserved’ economically weaker section (EWS) category for judicial services and state-run law colleges, in what is being called a calculated overture towards the ‘upper’ castes ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

The decision, announced Tuesday, came just a day after the Bihar government released the findings of its controversial caste-based survey, which showed that backward classes comprise 63 percent of the state’s 13 crore population.

The unreserved category, on the other hand, accounts for a mere 15.5 percent of the population, a finding that is said to have stirred unease among the upper castes.

It has also led to criticism from the BJP, which has claimed that the caste survey is a way to create caste divisions among Hindus

The Nitish Kumar government’s latest EWS quota gambit is seen in political circles as an olive branch to mollify the upper castes, which play an important role in several Lok Sabha constituencies.

Even some leaders of the ruling Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), acknowledge as much.

“We will be needing upper castes in several Lok Sabha seats. In Munger, our national president Lallan Singh will need the votes of the Bhumihars if he has to win. We need Rajput votes if we want to retain the Siwan seat. Valmikinagar is currently held by JD(U) MP who belongs to the Extremely Backward Caste category, but the seat is dominated by Brahmins,” a JD(U) MLA told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.

While Nitish Kumar’s politics has traditionally been centred on backward classes and Dalits, its long-time alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) meant that the upper castes also ended up voting for his party.

Now that the JD(U) has split with the BJP, it faces the prospect of alienating the upper castes, who may be upset by the caste census survey findings. Many of the CM’s closest aides belong to the upper castes, including Vijay Kumar Choudhary, a Bhumihar, and Sanjay Kumar Jha, a Brahmin.


Also Read: 1 yr of Jan Suraaj: How Prashant Kishor’s bid to mobilise Biharis on development, not caste, is going


 

10% of population, disproportionate clout

The Bihar caste survey reveals that the unreserved category accounts for over 15.5 percent of the state’s population, of which more than 5 percent are Muslims.

The four upper castes — Brahmins (3.66 percent), Rajputs (3.45 percent), Bhumihars (2.87 percent), and Kayasthas (0.6 percent) — make up only 10 percent of the population collectively. However, they play a disproportionate role in the state’s politics.

Currently, out of Bihar’s 40 seats in the Lok Sabha, there are 13 MPs from the upper castes. In the 243-seat state assembly, there are 49 MLAs who belong to the upper castes.

“The upper castes may be just 10 percent but their influence extends well beyond that. They still control maximum agricultural land. In the state, upper castes may function as absentee landlords, but those who work on their land often belong to the weaker sections. The upper castes exert influence among this section too,” said BJP MLA Gyanendra Singh Gyanu.

Furthermore, he added, no caste can win elections without the support of other castes.

“Upper caste MLAs and MPs do not win only on upper caste votes. It is about the combination of castes,” Gyanu said.

JD(U) leader and three-time MLA Lalan Paswan also told ThePrint that the quota would was unlikely to affect election outcomes.

“I never got votes for the work I had done. It’s the combination of castes which makes a win or loss at the time of polls,” Paswan said. “It’s all about perception.”

In Bihar, there are certain Lok Sabha seats where upper castes matter greatly. In Maharajganj, Patna Saheb, and Buxar, both the BJP and opposition candidates in the 2019 contest were from the ‘upper’ caste. There are also seats where upper castes have huge numbers, such as Valmikinagar, Aurangabad, Saran, Vaishali, and Darbhanga.

So far, the BJP has been the party that gives maximum seats to upper caste candidates. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it gave nine of the 17 seats it contested to the upper castes.

BJP Rajya Sabha MP and former Bihar deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said that the caste census report did not reveal any information that political parties were not already aware of.

“What is needed is a granular survey covering districts and blocks. The issue of giving disproportionate representation is faced by every party. In RJD, for example, the number of Yadav MLAs exceeds the 14 percent population. On the other hand, the number of seats given to Muslims is less,” he said.

According to Modi, the survey is unlikely to have any impact on the Lok Sabha polls next year. “But it may come to play in the assembly polls of 2025,” he added.

Clash over EWS quota

For the 10 percent EWS reservation, the cabinet approved amendments in the guidelines of the State Judicial Services, 1951.

JD(U) sources said that Kumar took the decision to approve the quota despite opposition from its principal ally, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

Notably, the RJD had opposed the quota for economically weaker sections in Parliament in 2019. Last year, when the Supreme Court upheld the reservation, Sushil Modi had lashed out at the RJD for being “anti” the upper castes, claiming it had no right to ask for votes from this constituency.

Now, BJP leaders in Bihar claim that the quota in the state is not a demonstration of Nitish Kumar’s largesse.

“When the EWS quota bill was passed in Parliament, Kumar got it passed in the legislative houses and gave 10 percent reservation. Accordingly, 10 percent quota was to be given in the judiciary. However, the Patna High Court had to remind the government several times— they had to comply with order,” Sushil Modi told ThePrint.

JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar, meanwhile, claimed that the party had done more for upper castes than the BJP. “The BJP should issue a white paper if they have given reservation to the upper caste in the states they rule,” he said.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)


Also Read: Bihar caste survey puts Siddaramaiah in fix — why releasing 2015 ‘caste census’ worries Karnataka CM


 

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