Infamously the “Paltu Chacha of Bihar polity”, the incumbent Chief Minister of Bihar seems to be playing his last bet of giving wings to his national political ambitions. Riding on the dream to be the next Prime Minister of India, Nitish Kumar appears to present the State of Bihar as a sacrificial lamb at the hands of the same jungle raj and divisive politics against which he was elected to power.
Nitish Kumar who has already declared his deputy, Tejashwi Yadav, as his political heir has sacrificed his ‘development agenda’. He has started focusing on the caste dynamics to dent the ‘consolidated Hindu vote’ of the rival Bhartiya Janta Party.
Bihar returning to pre-Nitish era of agony
Evidently, Nitish Kumar has recently inaugurated a ‘life-size statue of Maharana Pratap’ in Bihar. The move is significant because the ‘paltu chacha’ has taken a 360 degree turn from backward politics to appeasing the numerically meagre ‘Rajput vote bank’ of BJP.
Political experts are claiming that the move is inclined at breaking through the vote bank of BJP and create a caste divide between the Hindu communities. In addition, Nitish has given a free hand to Tejashwi Yadav to carry out his hypocritically biased politics of ‘jungle raj’, ‘appeasement’ and ‘caste bifurcation’ to take back the state to the pre-Nitish era, and garner votes by administering fear in the times to come.
Evils of Caste Politics
Traditionally, the Indian polity has witnessed a complete reliance on caste identification, as the predominant defining characteristic of regional parties in India. However, the voting dynamics of the states changed after the advent of the Modi wave, owing to the ‘emergence of new beneficiary class’ and with the unification of Hindu votes.
Post 2014, the caste distinctions have become less relevant in the political spectrum, making room for a Hindu national identity that is shared across India. The worst affected are the provincial satraps who relied on coalitions and caste calculations to stay in power.
The fanaticism to stay in power has given air to the ‘caste census’ headed solely by Nitish Kumar, a politician who dramatically failed to deliver on his previous development promises. CM Nitish Kumar is leaving no stones unturned to bring the entire opposition under one roof. It is to dissect the ‘united Hindu vote’ and bifurcated the vulnerable ‘beneficiary class on caste lines’ to dent the winning streak of PM Modi in the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Opposition’s cry for nationwide Caste Census
On the surface, it appears that the primary justification for the need for a caste-based census is that grouping beneficiaries into distinct folds will enhance the social security system. However, the admirable cause has a political twist.
Regional parties have started to vanish from India’s political landscape as a result of PM Modi’s rise to prominence. This is mostly due to the appropriation of caste-based politics and beneficiary-specific programmes. Welfare programmes don’t specifically target people based on their caste. Thus the rivals of PM Modi are forced to revive the tradition caste-based politics to defuse the growing might of BJP under PM Modi.
Consequently, the regional parties have turned to caste censuses, often known as “voter-censuses” in an effort to prevent political extinction. As “Caste” is the primary tenet underlying the existence of regional parties, Nitish Kumar who has earlier championed the cause of ‘development and progressive Bihar’ seems to succumb to the tradition fallacies of caste politics.
The move is aimed at garnering vote bank that has shifted to BJP. Regardless of how deadly the divisive caste census can be, Nitish Kumar seems to push with the move so as to ascertain the vote share of various classes. This would help him with incorporation of policies to appease the members of these classes and turn them into prospective vote banks in the future.
Furthermore, the motivation to oust BJP out of power is so strong that the opposition parties are unpityingly demanding for a national caste census. Despite their evident disparities, the move is not an outcome of some supernatural calling but the regional parties are aware of the fact that a caste-based census will allow for yet another “spate of mandalization” of Indian politics.
Opposition trying to undermine PM Modi
The opposition is attempting to undermine the BJP’s political position prior to the 2024 general elections by calling for a nationwide caste census. Even in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, regional parties outperformed the BJP in terms of OBC vote share. While the saffron party received 34% of the vote from OBC voters in 2014, regional parties as a whole polled close to 43%. In the five years that followed, up to 2019, the BJP made a significant effort to win over OBCs and bring them together under a Hindu identity. As a result, the party received 44% of their votes in 2019, compared to 27% for regional caste-based parties combined.
However, the support of the OBC for the BJP is still relatively new and has not yet become as strong and solidified as that of the upper castes and classes. In many states in North India, the BJP has also mobilised the lower OBC vote far more successfully than the dominating OBCs have. Naturally, the saffron party wants to win over every OBC voter by 2024. But the opposition seems to have been successful in getting under the skin of BJP, by getting away with the caste census.
The opposition appears to have finally realized how fragmented the BJP’s support base is. The “unified opposition” seeks to undermine the stronghold of Hindu unity that the BJP has been able to build, much like, how the British used castes to their advantage by splitting Hindus. The saffron party was expected to act right, to prevent the call for a caste census from gaining traction, but the BJP seems to have succumbed to the outcry of the opposition. Significantly, even the PIL to stop the caste census has fallen on the face in the Supreme Court, leaving the people of Bihar vulnerable at the hands of power thirsty politicians who are in no mood to compromise of their political ambitions.
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