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BJP: Casting reservation in a different light

The Finance-I&B Minister Arun Jaitley lent more weight to this by saying, “the idea of reservation for religions is fraught with danger” and accused the Mahagatbandhan of trying to do this.

Written by Seema Chishti |
Updated: December 25, 2015 10:28:53 pm
 bihar, bihar polls, bihar elections, Narendra Modi, BJP, BJP bihar polls, Bihar hindu dalits, Bihar obc votes, RSS, Bihar polls 2015, BIhar latest news Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during an election rally in Hajipur in Bihar. (Source: AP)

The BJP put out advertisements, prominently displayed on page 1 of Bihar’s Hindi dailies on the morning of October 28 – the day of the third phase of elections in the state. They asked if the Mahagatbandhan wanted “to serve” reservation to “alpsankhyaks” after “snatching” them from the “thaalis” of the Dalits and OBCs. It was a follow up to the remark by the PM in his campaign speech at Buxar on October 27, asking if it was right for the Mahagatbandhan to offer “another community” reservation reserved for the OBC and Dalits.

Buxar has borne witness to many battles but this was one of a kind in modern times. Clothed in pro-backward caste rhetoric, what this battle cry did was attempt to introduce the religious community factor into what some leaders of the Mahagatbandhan have called an emerging ‘Backward-Forward’ fight in Bihar.

The Finance-I&B Minister Arun Jaitley lent more weight to this by saying, “the idea of reservation for religions is fraught with danger” and accused the Mahagatbandhan of trying to do this.

Since the PM, the recent print campaign and Minister Jaitley have all said the same thing this is a serious proposition being advanced by the BJP, and so, some facts need to be injected into the debate. The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s honest articulation of the need to “review” the reservation policy was disowned vigorously by the BJP leadership but obviously the party has decided that more ammunition was needed to try and confuse the issue.

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To project reservation as something that applies to just Hindus is factually incorrect. The Mandal Report and gazettes issued thereafter, clearly state it. The OBC stands clearly for Other Backward Classes (not Castes) and while caste groups are referred to, they are included if found “socially and educationally backward” and thereafter recogniosed as “Classes” not “Castes”. Its an important difference.

When the central and state lists as well as the Mandal list were made, they included numerous OBCs with people of several religions, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, all were in the ambit. Random examples — the Nats, Noniya, Dhoniya, Bhishti, Badhaiys, Julahas – (castes engaged in traditional, ‘lowly’ occupations like bird-catching, dance and entertainment, water-supply, weaving, carpentry, etc). These and other like them were all brought into the ambit of backward classes and castes and include Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, neo-Buddhists and faiths other than Hindus who have those caste groupings.

So there is no question of reservation being an exclusive preserve of the Hindus in any list. The anger in 1990, of Hindutva proponents towards the National Front government of VP Singh for introducing Mandal into north India was because caste reservation took away from the idea of religious divides and made caste paramount.

As far as Dalits go, till 1950, Dalits of all faiths were covered in the Dalit reservation. Then, a controversial government order excluded non-Hindu Dalits. However, slowly, as pressure from Sikh-Dalits and Buddhist-Dalits grew, they were included in the Dalit category. So presently, that is the status: while Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits get reservations as SCs, Muslim and Christian Dalits do not. They however, still get reservation under the OBC category.

Also, for STs or Scheduled Tribes, religion does not matter – whether you are a Hindu, Christian or Muslim or of any other persuasion, if you are recognised as a Tribe, you can avail of ST reservation.

The BJP has imaginatively, tried to do a back-to-basics argument, one that centres on religion by using caste vocabulary. It does not appear to have had much resonance in Bihar. Maybe because the unfortunate use of snatching reservations and `Thaali mein parosna, drew the attention of the public to their basic needs — food prices, especially dal which has destroyed household budgets.

The BJP is trying to cast issues in a different light. Now it is going global: Pakistan and China have entered the poll fray. The party president Amit Shah hinted at Ruxaul that if the BJP loses, “crackers will be burst” in Pakistan. BJP’s Bihar leader Sushil Modi said today that “China and Pakistan” don’t fear any leader like they fear PM Modi.

Who says Bihar is about just caste?

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