2024 LS polls: Die ‘caste’, Bihar parties do their maths afresh - Hindustan Times

2024 LS polls: Die ‘caste’, Bihar parties do their maths afresh

Nov 25, 2023 09:37 PM IST

Armed with data from the statewide caste survey, political parties in Bihar have started wooing caste combinations.

PATNA In the run-up to the General Election in the country due in 2024, political parties in Bihar have started wooing caste combinations that matter, armed as they are now with the data from the statewide caste survey.

Preparations for Bhim Sansad to be held at Bihar Veterinary College in Patna on Saturday. (Sanstoh Kumar/HT)
Preparations for Bhim Sansad to be held at Bihar Veterinary College in Patna on Saturday. (Sanstoh Kumar/HT)

Chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United has organised a mega meeting of scheduled castes in state capital on Sunday, christened “Bhim Sansad”, to consolidate its base among scheduled castes/ tribes whereas the BJP organised a meeting of Pan-Bunkar-Tanti Samaj on Saturday in an effort to get their support.

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Scheduled castes together form 19.65% of the Bihar’s population, as per the statewide caste survey findings released on October 2, and are the third largest population bloc in Bihar after EBCs (36.01%) and OBCs (27.12%).

The Pan-Bunkar and Tanti together form nearly 2.50% of the EBC population. “In addition to this, BJP is already working on Pasmandas and Bunkars among Muslims, who have been clubbed together under Momins which form 3.5% of Muslim population,” said BJP state vice-president Santosh Pathak.

Importance of Bhim Sansad for JD (U)

Bhim Sansad, named after Baba Bhim Rao Ambedkar, is a bid by JD(U) to reach out the SCs, who hitherto have not been aligned with the ruling party. With BJP going all out in its efforts to make inroads in EBC vote bank of JD(U), the ruling Grand Alliance parties have started looking for new caste base to compensate any disintegration of votes from EBC and OBC, said a JD (U) leader familiar with the matter.

“SCs and EBCs have always been our areas of focus. Now that the caste survey report shows them as big social groups, we have started by reaching out to the SCs first. A dedicated meeting for EBCs could be also on the cards,” said a senior JD(U) leader. who didn’t wish to be named.

Building construction minister Ashok Choudhary, who is from JD(U), said the purpose of the Sansad is to let people of the community know what state government led by Nitish Kumar has done for their upliftment.

“After Kumar took over as the CM in November 2005, he clubbed together 21 SCs as “Mahadalits”, leaving out only the Paswans (a constituency of Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan). This helped him rally support among these Dalit groups, and build up his political capital, despite belonging to a caste group (Kurmis), who have minuscule presence in Bihar. He also made Jitan Ram Manjhi as CM in 2014 when he stepped down briefly was part of Nitish’s strategy to show his support for Dalit welfare,” said Chowdhary, who is a close aide of the CM.

Not only that, Bhim Sansad would also showcase the Nitish Kumar government decision to enhance the increase in quota from existing 50% to 65% by getting the Bihar Reservation of vacancies in posts and services (For SC, ST, EBC and OBC) Amendment Bill and the Bihar (In Admission In Educational, Institutions) Reservation Amendment Bill, 2023 passed. The 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) will be over and above it to take reservation to 75% in Bihar.

Under the new provision, based on the findings of the landmark caste survey in the state, the quota for Scheduled Caste (SC) goes up to 20%, while that of Scheduled Tribe (ST) to 2%, Extremely backward classes (EBC) to 25% and Other Backward Classes (OBC) to 18%.

“Nitish Kumar also carved out a separate SC/ST Welfare Department from the Social Welfare Department in 2007. Among sundry benefits being given to SC/ST people are 50,000 each to those who qualify prelims of the Bihar Public Services Examination and 1 lakh to those clearing Union Public Service Examination prelims. The government also gives scholarships to SC/ST students of Classes 1 to 10,”said the minister.

However, JD(U), unlike NDA, does not have any tall leader of SC. In comparison, NDA can boast of Chirag Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi, to name a few, in its ranks.

The importance of this Sansad for the JD (U) is gauged from the fact that a few days ago, the CM had flagged off the Bhim Sansad chariots. SC and ST Welfare Minister Ratnesh Saada said that elaborate arrangements have been made for the people attending the rally. Party sources said that elaborate arrangements for providing food has also been made on the day of rally.

RJD also woos SCs

Earlier this year, JD(U)’s ally RJD, the largest constituent in the ruling alliance Mahagathbandhan, had started “Ambedkar Pe Charcha”, an interactive programme at the village level to reach out to the rural poor and marginalised sections of the society, according to party insiders.

The programme was launched on April 14 as part of its drive to reach out to the people to highlight the party’s ideological fight against the BJP and alleged attempts to dilute the tenets of the Constitution, party leaders aware of the matter said.

BJP caste based rallies

In recent times, Bihar BJP has also tried to attract the vote banks of different castes and communities by organizing the birth anniversary of Sahajanand Saraswati and Yaduvanshi Samaj Milan.

BJP national spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan said: “Bhim Sansad is nothing more than political symbolism. JD(U) and Nitish Kumar have expertise in these symbols. One still remembers how Manjhi was made CM as only a placeholder, and later removed unceremoniously. Nitish also divided the SCs by creating a Mahadalit category. But the JD(U) does not have any SC leader of substance in its ranks.”

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