Cast(e) in a familiar mould, Samajwadi Party’s demand to become shriller after Bihar report
The Samajwadi Party's pro-caste census slogan is expected to gain momentum in Uttar Pradesh as the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar released findings of its caste survey, revealing that OBCs and EBCs make up 63% of the state's population. The SP advocates for proportionate representation of caste groups in reservation and government schemes and aims to increase the reservation cap for OBCs. The Bihar report strengthens the SP's claim that OBCs are over 60% in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress party has also taken up the OBC and caste census issue as part of the opposition alliance against the BJP-led NDA.
The Samajwadi Party’s pro-caste census slogan is expected to become shriller before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and set the stage for a replay of the 1990s ‘Mandal’ vs ‘Kamandal’ (caste vs. Hindutva politics) in Uttar Pradesh as the Nitish Kumar government in neighbouring Bihar on Monday released findings of its much-awaited caste survey which revealed that OBCs and EBCs constitute a whopping 63% of that state’s total population.
The Bihar report comes as a shot in the arm for the Samajwadi Party whose chief Akhilesh Yadav had earlier announced his party’s electoral formula in the form of PDA (Pichada-Dalit-Alpsankhyak, that is Backwards, Dalits and Muslims).
The SP is known to raise the oft-repeated slogan “Jitni jiski sankhya bhaari, utni uski hisseydaari” slogan, which means the share of a caste group in reservation and government schemes should be proportionate to its share in the population. It also advocates increasing the 27% reservation cap for the OBCs (other backward classes).
Samajwadi Party has repeatedly been saying that OBCs are over 60% in Uttar Pradesh, and the Bihar report strengthens the SP’s claim in Uttar Pradesh.
In a post on X, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav wrote in Hindi: “Bihar’s caste census report is published: This is the mathematical basis for social justice. The caste census will not put 85% (others) against 15% (upper caste Hindus), but will open pathways for cooperation (between them)...The BJP government should stop politicking and get a nationwide caste census done.”
The SP narrative is bolstered by two factors: The Bihar report and the Congress taking up the OBC and caste census plank as a member of the INDIA alliance of opposition parties against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
While the SP and its associates are rooting for OBC politics, the Ram temple in Ayodhya is getting ready for inauguration in early 2024 under the BJP government.
Without any post-Independence caste census data, the OBC population is often considered at about 45% in Uttar Pradesh which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, the highest in the country.
Samajwadi Party Pichada Varg Prakoshtha (backward classes cell) state president Rajpal Kashyap said: “How can there be social justice without considering a caste group’s share in the population?”
Kashyap also says: “It’s an irony that the country is following the 1931 census caste data. So much has changed since then. Pakistan got carved out of India. How can that data be relevant today? There are 79 main OBC castes in U.P. and we believe that now OBCs are over 60% of the population. Why can’t the census, when it asks about fridge, TV, computer, kuchcha or pucca house, tap or phone connection, also ask the respondents about caste?”
Bahujan Samaj Party’s Amroha Lok Sabha member Kunwar Danish Ali said: “With the Bihar report, the scenario is getting closer to the Mandal vs. Kamandal (caste vs Hindutva) of the 1990s. Then, Mandal defeated Kamandal.”
Within hours of the Bihar report becoming public, Ali, on his X handle, demanded a caste census and tagged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to get the caste census done.
The SP and its INDIA partner in Uttar Pradesh--the Congress -- are already running their separate OBC and caste census demand campaigns.
Uttar Pradesh Congress organisation secretary Anil Yadav said: “The Bihar report is a slap on the BJP’s face. The OBC issues have been high on UP politics agenda and the BJP too had been doing it. Instead of taking the OBCs as a whole, the BJP has been doing the politics of dividing various OBCs castes by giving preferential treatment to some castes such as Rajbhars or Nishads, thereby splitting the OBCs. The Bihar census has shown OBCs as 63% while reservation is just 27%. Though it will definitely vindicate the INDIA alliance’s stand on OBCs and caste census, to the Congress, the issue is of development of the nation through social justice.”
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and the Apna Dal (Krishna Patel) are on the same page on the issue as the SP.
“Whenever the Samajwadis get a chance, we will get the caste census done. Till the time we are out of government, we will continue to tell the government that social justice without caste census is not possible,” Akhilesh Yadav has repeatedly said.
The caste census promise had been part of the Samajwadi Party’s election manifesto in 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. It “will be among the top promises in the 2024 manifesto”, said a senior SP leader.
In Uttar Pradesh, all elections since 2014 have largely been BJP vs SP.
“If OBCs and Dalits desert the BJP, then the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will fall like a house of cards,” Akhilesh Yadav said at an event in Lucknow on Sunday.
SK Dwivedi, political analyst and former head of the department of political science at Lucknow University, said: “It’s all targeted towards the approaching polls. The late Rajni Kothari, in the 1960s-70s, wrote in one of his books, that Indian politics cannot get rid of caste elements. Looking at today’s Bihar developments and reactions, it appears how true Rajni Kothari was. Indian politics is not able to get rid of caste and religion. And this is unfortunate. It is clear that Akhilesh wants to add OBCs and Dalits to his traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank in favour of his party. And the BJP was also engaged in a counter-narrative to attract OBCs and Dalits votes to itself. But being non-committal on the caste census would bring difficulties to the saffron party,” Dwivedi said.
Akhilesh, who had played MY(Muslim-Yadav)-OBC-Dalit card, had also dabbed it with a bit of the soft Hindutva formula in the 2022 U.P. assembly polls. All these steps helped him increase his party’s tally of seats from 47 (in 2017) to 111 in the state assembly.