Five important functions were recently held in Patna, the capital of Bihar, within a period of 10 days. One of them, ‘Dhobhi Mahasammelan’ was officially a caste-congregation. Others were also caste-based gatherings, albeit unofficially. In these four functions, held in the name of great personalities, casteist politics ruled the roost. The functions were witness to a tug-of-war between the Congress and the BJP. One demand that was raised prominently was that the next PM should be either a Vaishya or from one of the Most Backward communities.
The Dhobhi Mahasammelan held on 20-21 April was a show of strength of the formidable Dhobhi vote bank. It was held under the leadership of Shyam Rajak, minister for food and civil supplies in the government of Bihar. At the convention, a demand was raised for proportional reservation in the judiciary and the private sector. Shyam Rajak, who is also the national president of the Dhobhi Mahasangh, without mincing words, said that if the quota was not given, the Establishment would be washed out. He also said that all political parties should include the promise of granting SC status to the Dhobhi community in their manifestoes for the upcoming general elections. Satyanarayan Vasva of Andhra Pradesh wanted the Bihar government to constitute a washermen’s co-operative federation on the lines of the AP government and that all washermen should be given an assistance of Rs. 1.5 lakh, one-half of which should be in the subsidy, for self-employment. Vijay Bhonsle of Maharashtra urged the Union government to introduce courses in Laundry and Washing technology so as to enable the Dhobhis to get employment in the Railways, hotels and big hospitals.
Babu Kunwar Singh Vijayotsava was celebrated by BJP leaders on 22 April in memory of Kunwar Singh, a Rajput, at the Srikrishna Memorial Hall in Patna. The following day, JDU leaders celebrated the same occasion at the same venue. On 22 April, BJP leaders even showed Kunwar Vijay Singh emerging from their election symbol, a lotus. MP Shatrughan Singh, training his guns at the Centre, said that the ‘Tehrenvin’ (Hindu ritual performed on the thirteenth day of death) of the Congress would be performed in 2013 itself. Steering clear of praising Narendra Modi, he made adulatory references to Lal Krishna Advani and said—though not in so many words—that Advani was very much in the race for prime ministersip. PHED Minister Chandramohan Rai was resentful of people associating caste with celebrations of the birthdays or victory days of great personalities. Employing the euphemism of ‘regional parties’, BJP leaders launched a bitter attack on their alliance partner JDU. The party’s national general secretary Rajeev Pratap Rudy went to the extent of warning that the people will never forgive the parties which will chose to side with the Congress. The second day’s celebrations were sponsored by the JDU and the leaders of the party responded to the BJP’s barbs in kind. State JDU chief said that the BJP should realise that regional parties are a reality of contemporary Indian politics. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar declared that securing the status of a special state for Bihar was top on his agenda for the 2014 general elections. Education Minister PK Shahi underlined the need for research on Kunwar Singh while MP Meena Singh proposed that a museum centered on his life should be established.
On 26 April, the BJP celebrated ‘Veer Shiromani Baba Chauharmal anniversary’. Baba Chauharmal hailed from the Dusadh caste. Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi used the occasion to counteract the sourness that has come to inform the relations between the NDA partners. He said that regional parties cannot be ignored. No matter how hard someone may try, the country’s politics cannot become bi-polar. But at the same time, he insisted that the next Prime Minister would be a BJP man. Many BJP leaders assailed the Nitish government’s decision to deprive the Dusadh caste of the status of ‘Mahadalit’. Modi kept trying to convince the gathering that the Bihar government is giving the same facilities to Dalits and Mahadalits.
Veer Bhamashah anniversary was celebrated in Patna on 30 April. Born in a Vaishya / Jain family, Bhamashah was a great friend of Rana Pratap and had helped him greatly with men and material. Vaishyas constitute 22 per cent of the voters and the issue of how to use this as a leverage to grab power and facilities was animatedly discussed at the function. It was said that the communities with 2-3 per cent vote share were being cuddled by the political parties while the Vaishyas were yet to get their due share in the power structure. Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi admitted that unlike other states, the business class was not united in Bihar. Tourism Minister Sunil Kumar Pintu expressed his deep concern over the Bihar government dragging its feet on including the Teli caste in the Most Backward Classes category. In the presence of Nitish Kumar, he demanded that Vaishyas should be suitably accommodated in the legislature. BJP MLA Sanjay Saravgi wanted a Vaishya to be the country’s next Prime Minister. He was obviously referring to Narendra Modi.
A few days later, at the meeting of BJP Most Backwards cell, Deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi said that an MBC will be the country’s next PM. His was also hinting at Narendra Modi, who comes from the Ghanchi caste. JDU, which believes that Sushil Modi is a Nitish camp-follower, was taken aback by this statement. After this statement, the BJP has begun working hard to win over the MBC vote bank, which is about 35 per cent of Bihar’s population. Nitish Kumar also did not approve of Sushil Kumar Modi’s statement and at a press conference during the programme ‘Janata Ka Darbar’ said that only time will tell who is Backward and who is Most Backward.
One doesn’t know by when Nitish Kumar would be able to solve the puzzle of who is a Backward and who a Most Backward but what is clear is that the string of caste conventions in the state has multiplied his worries. These conventions may signal that his exclusive MBC and Maha Dalit vote bank is slipping out of his hands and may be shifting towards the BJP.
Published in the June 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine