If Bihar can move towards holding a caste census, why can’t Maharashtra?

Lalu and Mulayam founded their own political outfits following the launch of a movement seeking implementation of the Mandal Commission report, and both defeated the Brahmin camp. That was in the 1990s. What was happening in Maharashtra at the time? asks Shrawan Deore

At long last, the Bihar government, on 1 June 2022, managed to build a consensus on caste census at an all-party meeting. The following day, the council of ministers met to give the greenlight to the modalities for conducting the census. Now, the Bihar Assembly has to take a call on the issue. The Monsoon Session of the assembly is scheduled to begin from 24 June. The government will table a Bill on caste census in the House. After its passage by the assembly and the governor’s consent to it, the Bill will become a law. Thus, there is a strong possibility that caste census will be conducted in Bihar sooner rather than later.  

I say “strong possibility” because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power at the Centre and is part of the alliance that rules Bihar, has been consistently and vociferously opposing a caste census. But if, despite this, the Bihar government is going ahead with the exercise, it is a tribute to the parties for whom social justice is the central plank. Tejashwi Yadav, leader of opposition in the Bihar Assembly, has also played a key role in the progress made on this matter. 

It will not be out of place to mention here that so far, Nitish Kumar has been using the issue of caste census only as a political stratagem to keep his alliance partner, the BJP, in check. But that is not all. Vote-banks are central to politics. In Bihar, the Dalits and OBCs are socially conscious. Nitish Kumar was well aware that if Tejashwi Yadav launched an agitation demanding a caste census, it would severely dent his vote-bank, so Nitish Kumar himself took the initiative in this regard to pre-empt Tejashwi.

What we need to understand is that every political party has a Brahmin camp, which is consistently busy feathering its own nest. After Independence, the Brahmin camp persuaded the ruling Congress to stop conducting caste censuses. Now, the same camp is making the BJP oppose it. The BJP never supported the idea. In fact, the BJP-led central government submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court refusing to conduct a caste census. The Brahmin camp also uses both the communist parties as well as their affiliates to serve its interests. This is proof of how powerful it is. 

When Jayalalitha was chief minister of Tamil Nadu, her government had also tried to carry out a caste census. But it was blocked by the Supreme Court. Later, Jayalalitha fell ill and died. Gopinath Munde, a popular leader from Maharashtra, was also a supporter of caste census. He, too, died in mysterious circumstances. Chhagan Bhujbal and Sameer Bhujbal were among the OBC leaders who were jailed for raising this issue. So, it would be naive to presume that the Brahmin lobby will allow a caste census in Bihar without creating any hurdles.  

Basically, conducting censuses is the responsibility of the Central Government. Though the BJP has supported caste census in Bihar, someone from the Brahmin camp is sure to move the Supreme Court and obtain a stay on the exercise. 

The developments in Bihar have triggered demands for caste census in other states. In Maharashtra, many organizations have urged the state government to undertake a caste census. There is nothing wrong in making such a demand. Pressure should be brought to bear upon those in power to count the people on the basis of their caste. However, we also need to ponder as to why what has happened in Bihar hasn’t in Maharashtra. 

The late Bal Thackeray with Chhagan Bhujbal (file photo)

In Bihar, revolutionary socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia struck an alliance with influential OBC leader R.L. Chandapuri. This alliance yielded rich political dividends. Ram Naresh Yadav became the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and Karpoori Thakur and B.P. Mandal became chief ministers of Bihar. This alliance also led to the emergence of thinkers and leaders like Jagdeo Prasad, Lalai Singh Yadav and Ramswaroop Verma, among others. 

These leaders and thinkers fashioned the Bihar and the Uttar Pradesh of today. If, today, parties led by Lalu, Mulayam and others can lay siege to the Brahmin citadel, it is a legacy of the socialist movement in these states.  

There is not a shred of such a tradition in Maharashtra. On the contrary, the state has a tradition of “Gulamgiri”. Lalu and Mulayam founded their own political outfits following the launch of a movement seeking implementation of the Mandal Commission report, and both defeated the Brahmin camp. That was in the 1990s. What was happening in Maharashtra at the time?

Chhagan Bhujbal, who was in the Shiv Sena then, was replaced by Manohar Joshi as the leader of the opposition in the assembly. This move was considered an injustice perpetrated by the Brahmin camp. An enraged Bhujbhal quit the Shiv Sena and joined the Congress. From then on, Bhujbhal became a hero of the OBCs. He launched the Samta Parishad and worked towards achieving national recognition as an OBC leader. There was nothing wrong with his strategy but he had not taken the Brahmin camp in his new party into account. How could the Brahmin and Maratha heavyweights have tolerated a state-level OBC leader harbouring national ambitions?  

In brahmanical parties like the Congress and the BJP, the Dalit-OBC leaders are akin to kites being flown in the sky. While soaring in the sky they become self-centred. They become egoist and start believing that they are the best. In other words, they forget about the social milieu from which they have risen. Phule and Ambedkar gave us the ideology that helps us understand the implications of the caste we were born into and of the place of that caste in the social order. But leaders like Bhujbal, who do politics in the name of Phule, often forget the teachings of these great men and fall into the trap of the Brahmin camp.  

Had Chagan Bhujbal imbibed the teachings and the thinking of Phule he would not have jumped from the frying pan of the Shiv Sena into the fire of the Congress. Phule had predicted at the time of the birth of the Congress itself that it would not be a party of the Shudras and the Atishudras but only of the Brahmins. Phule could see what the future held. But the Bahujans of today are still oblivious to the brahmanical underpinnings of the Congress. 

If, after quitting Shiv Sena, Bhujbhal, instead of joining the Congress, had founded his own party as Lalu and Mulayam did, that party would have been in power in Maharashtra today. There is no doubt about this.  

(To be continued)

(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)


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The Case for Bahujan Literature

Mahishasur: A people’s hero

Dalit Panthers: An Authoritative History

Mahishasur: Mithak wa Paramparayen

The Common Man Speaks Out

Jati ke Prashn Par Kabir

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