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The impact of the Bihar caste survey | Explained

What has the report found? Which is the largest caste category in the State? Will the findings influence upcoming polls? Will it make a difference in the lives of the poor and marginalised? When will the socio-economic profile be released by the government?

On October 2, the Bihar government published the ‘Bihar Caste-based Survey 2022’, which shows that extremely backward classes (EBCs) and other backward classes (OBCs) together add up to nearly 63% of the 13-crore population, making it the largest caste group in the State. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who belongs to the OBC Kurmi caste (2.87%) and has nursed the EBCs for his political survival, had first raised the demand for a State caste survey in 2019.

How did it come about?

The Bihar legislature unanimously passed a resolution agreeing to a caste census, twice: first on February 18, 2019 and then on February 27, 2020. On August 23, 2021, an all-party delegation, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), went to Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi to urge him to conduct a caste census in the country. However, when the Union government later said in the Lok Sabha that as a matter of policy it had decided not to enumerate a caste-wise census, the Bihar government in June, 2022 issued notification for conducting a caste survey in the State on its own and subsequently allocated ₹500 crore from its contingency fund for the exercise. The two-phase counting exercise was completed in August this year involving around 2.64 lakh enumerators documenting details of 29 million registered households. All 214 castes mentioned in the survey form were allotted different individual codes and the survey was segmented into 17 points, to find out the socio-economic profile of the population.

What are the outcomes of the survey?

The survey shows that the EBCs with 112 castes comprise the largest chunk of the population in the State with a 36.01% share; with 29 castes and a 27.12% share, the OBCs are the second largest contingent of the population. The Yadavs, with a 14.26% share, is the dominant caste in the OBC group. The Scheduled Castes population is pegged at 19.65% while the number of the general unreserved population is 15.52%.

Will the report lead to an increase in the reservation quota in Bihar?

Yes, the reservation quota will be increased in the State as per the population proportion which has come out in the survey report, said ruling coalition alliance party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad. “Jiski jitni bhagedari, utni hissedari (greater the population, greater the share),” said the ruling grand alliance party leaders, while the Opposition BJP leaders dubbed the survey as an “eye wash” and “fake and faulty”. The census report is likely to pave the way for the political demand for doing away with the 50% ceiling on reservation imposed by the Supreme Court. With the general elections just months away, the caste survey of Bihar has impacted the BJP’s hopes to electorally cash in on the Women’s Reservation Act. The Congress has already demanded there should be OBC reservation within the quota for women. The BJP, which had earlier supported the caste survey in the State, seems to be now caught in a dilemma. Party leaders said they were not opposed to the caste survey but that the report has flaws and irregularities.

Political experts believe that the caste survey report would weaken “hindutva forces” in the upcoming elections in the country and the State as well. “The survey report has triggered a national debate over caste composition and its share and no party can afford to ignore it now,” said political expert Nawal Kishore Choudhary in Patna. It will lead to a revival of mandal versus kamandal (backward vs forward) politics in the State, said another political expert.

Will this lead to more welfare schemes?

According to experts on the field, the survey report would definitely force political parties to announce and initiate more welfare schemes for the poor and marginalised sections of society. “The OBCs, EBCs, SCs and STs make up 85% of the total population in the State, how can any political party ignore their welfare?” asked political expert Ajay Kumar. The BJP leaders in the State said their party has always been working for the welfare of this section as their Prime Minister himself comes from an OBC group. “Now, it will be difficult for those like Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who had carved out the EBCs from OBCs under his ‘social engineering plan’ to remain in power unless he gives the EBCs real representation in the government and the Assembly as well,” said senior State BJP leaders. Despite being Chief Minister since 2005, the EBCs have been the real “neglected” community and the caste survey report is now going to hugely “impact” State politics, BJP leaders said.

However, ruling coalition party leaders like Mr. Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav, have said that they would review the welfare schemes announced by the government for the development of the poor and marginalised sections — “what is needed, will definitely be done,” they said.

Significantly, the government is yet to release the socio-economic profile of the people surveyed. They have said that it would be released during the upcoming winter session of the State legislature.

credit source: The Hindu (Text and Context )

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