The strangest things happen in politics, especially at election time and particularly in the state of Bihar where, in essence, the fight is between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. To the best of my knowledge and belief, no PM has ever spent so much time and energy on holding rallies during a state assembly election as Modi has done in Bihar.
For his part, Nitish has entered into an alliance with his bitterest rival, Lalu Prasad, who cannot contest the election because of his conviction in the massive fodder scam case. He is busy, therefore, promoting his dynasty. In this context, it is surprising that the reservation of seats in legislatures and government jobs for Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs should have become such a big bone of contention between the two sides.
In all fairness, it must be acknowledged that the starting point of the escalating dispute was a statement by Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Sangh Parivar, at the beginning of the election campaign. He blandly suggested that the time had come for the appointment of a committee to review the entire system of reservations. He added that economic plight, rather than caste, should be the deciding factor in this regard. From the RSS point of view, this makes sound sense. There can be no Hindu Rashtra if Hindu society is not solidly united. Caste will surely be an instrument to fragment it.
But Bhagwat seems not to have realised that his plea would create a huge problem for Modi and his righthand man, Amit Shah. They moved fast to slam the jubilant cry of caste leaders that the BJP had served notice that it would abolish the existing reservations. They emphatically iterated that their party favoured caste-based reservations and would stick to them.
At his next election rally, the PM spoke about a “quota conspiracy”. Lalu and Nitish, he declared, were “conspiring” to snatch away a proportion of reservations from the Dalits, Mahadalits, OBCs and EBCs to give these to “another community”. He must have had reasons not to name the community. But Shah removed all ambiguity on this subject. He proclaimed that if the BJP lost the election in Bihar for any reason, Pakistan would explode crackers. He explained that in order to placate his “vote bank”, Nitish never arrested terrorists, which endeared him to Pakistan.
Even if Nitish and Lalu win by a landslide, they will not be able to amend the Constitution, which is Parliament’s job.
In any case, why would they “snatch from the plates of Dalits and backwards and serve it to the minorities”? (These words are from the saffron party’s newspaper ads in Patna.)
The BJP’s rejoinder is bound to be that the questioner is an ignoramus. Doesn’t he/ she know that, according to the Supreme Court’s judgment, reservations cannot exceed 50 per cent of the total jobs? No one seems to have briefed the PM that reserved jobs in some states add up to 68 per cent because they are legitimised by the simple expedient of including the relevant law in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution.
Incidentally, the Supreme Court’s judgment also ordains that the “creamy layer” of the castes granted reservations should be denied the privilege at least after a generation. Has even a single neta belonging to the layer so creamy as to declare his/ her assets to be worth Rs 50 crore, or even more, given up this privilege? No, because it makes better sense to pass it on to one’s progeny.
All the shouting and screaming about reservations has clearly been a desperate effort to polarise India’s pluralistic society along religious lines. Mercifully, in a day it will be known whether the effort has succeeded or fallen flat.
The RSS has now demanded a revision of the population policy because of an “imbalance” in the growth rates of various communities. Reproduction among Muslims and Christians is faster than that among Hindus. Hopefully, the government will do the needful in consultation with all, and amicably.
My humble suggestion is that the Sangh Parivar should persuade its followers not to kill the girl child before birth. Much of the current “imbalance” will disappear.
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator