Why is BJP championing extremely backward castes’ reservation in Bihar?

Image used for representational purposes. | Picture: National Herald

While the BJP is trying hard to posit Nitish Kumar as anti-EBC after the lost case of reservation in court, Kumar’s party Janata Dal United (JDU) seems to be making a strong case for the caste census to counter the BJP’s narrative. 

Sami Ahmad | TwoCircles.net 

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PATNA (BIHAR) — Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is generally considered an upper caste and anti-reservation party, is staging a stunning reservation campaign for extremely backward castes (EBC) in Bihar. On October 4, a verdict by Patna High Court declared the announced reservation for Backward Castes in Bihar’s Urban Local Bodies election as illegal and void for procedural reasons. BJP is using this opportunity to champion the case of reservation for the EBC and declare chief minister Nitish Kumar as anti-EBC. 

This verdict came on a holiday when the Durga Puja celebrations were in full swing in Bihar, just six days before the first phase of voting. Bihar government approached the Supreme Court of India on October 10 to allow the conducting of the election with the earlier announced reservation plan. 

A statement in 2015 by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat asking for a review of reservation policy had put the BJP (as RSS is considered the parent organization of BJP) in a very difficult position and it performed very badly as Nitish Kumar had joined hands with Lalu Prasad; both used Bhagwat’s statement to mobilize pro reservation and anti-BJP sentiments. 

This reservation plan was declared by the state government which started in 2007. BJP was part of the Nitish Kumar-led state government from 2005 till August 9 this year barring the 18 months from 2015 to 2017 when Nitish had joined hands with Lalu Prasad. Three elections of local bodies—urban and Panchayat—were held with this same provision of reservation. 

Basis of the court verdict

Patna High court referred to a Supreme Court verdict making a Triple Test mandatory for declaring reservation in 2010. This triple test mandated the formation of a dedicated commission for studying the political backwardness and then fixing the percentage of reservation which cannot be more than 50%.

A member of the advocate’s team of the 17 petitioners in this case, Premendra Kumar Mishra told TwoCircles.net that the candidates of general and non-EBC backward castes were upset by the government’s decision to reserve the post of deputies in the UBL election. “We pleaded that since the due process was not followed, the reservation announced by the government be declared illegal. We are happy that our prayer got accepted,” he said. 

He said that they were not against reservation but the “arbitrarily doing this was not acceptable.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Khalid Alam, who has filed his nomination paper for the UBL election. He told TwoCircles.net, “High court decision has brought in the question of reservation in the limelight but the decision to suspend the entire election process by the state election commission is unjustified.” 

He questioned the BJP’s motive behind the cry for reservation as “it could have raised this issue while it was sharing power with Nitish.” An advocate by qualification Khalid said, “BJP donon hath mein laddu chahati hai. Ek taraf reservation ke khilaf muqadma karwati hai aur dusree taraf reservation ke liye rona roti hai.” (BJP wants to have the cake and eat it too. On one hand it files petitions against reservation and on the other it cries for reservation.)

Analysts say that BJP is trying to woo its general caste voters for questioning the reservation in court and putting itself as the champion of EBC reservation by speaking in public. As general castes voters are considered optionless in Bihar, unlike the option of AAP in Delhi and Punjab, they are bound to vote for BJP. So, BJP is trying to kill two birds with one stone. 

Srikant, former director of Jagjivan Ram Institute of Parliamentary Studies & Political Research said that EBCs constitute a strong electoral base and BJP used to get its support due to its alliance with Nitish Kumar.  

“It is natural that the BJP wants not to lose the votes of EBCs after losing Nitish Kumar as an ally who is considered to have a strong grip over the EBCs,” Srikant told TwoCircles.net.

He said that EBCs constitute around 35% of the votes of around 113 castes and no party can afford to lose its support in Bihar. 

BJP leaders like Sushil Kumar Modi, a Rajyasabha member and former Bihar deputy chief minister, are claiming that as “Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys the support of EBCs, Nitish Kumar is not caring for the EBCs.”

In response to BJP’s accusation, the senior BJP leader Upendra Kushwaha raised the issue of the caste census. He said that to get empirical data it is necessary to conduct a caste census pending since 1932. 

Bihar government has started conducting the caste in the state. Both Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar are demanding that a nationwide caste census should be conducted by the central government.

While the BJP is trying hard to posit Nitish Kumar as anti-EBC after the lost case of reservation in court, JDU seems to be making a strong case for the caste census to counter the BJP’s narrative.

Sami Ahmad is a journalist based in Patna, Bihar. He tweets at @samipkb