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Caste in stone

Author: Ravi Shankar
Publication: The New Indian Express
Date: June 21, 2012
URL: http://newindianexpress.com/opinion/article544139.ece

Once upon a time there was a self-important frog. He chanced upon a huge bull. The frog began to puff himself up so much that he exploded. The self-importance of Nitish Kumar, who fancies himself as the next PM, makes him huff and puff against Narendra Modi.

Nitish hates Modi because he fears him. The BJP’s new Sardar Patel is the only credible prime ministerial candidate who can lead the NDA to a win in the next general elections. Nitish Kumar’s song is, he would support only a ‘secular’ candidate—meaning, himself. The irony is, he conducts, perhaps, the most communal political orchestra in the country. The former civil engineer has used crafty social engineering twice to construct a bridge between minority politics and electoral victory. Narendra Modi’s national appeal threatens to flood that bridge: in Bihar, out of 243 seats, the BJP has 91 MLAs vis a vis the 115 its partner JD (U) has. The BJP polled 16.4 per cent of the total votes, and the JD (U) 20.4 per cent. In Nitish’s politically schizophrenic vision, is the BJP ‘secular’ in Bihar and communal in Gujarat?

In Indian political patois, ‘communal’ and ‘secular’ have macabre meanings. Anyone who enjoys the support of the Hindu voter and sentiment is communal. Anyone who has the approval of Muslims and other minorities is secular. In the Nitish calculus, his main constituency is made up of Bihari Muslims and scheduled castes. Besides, almost all backward Muslim castes fall in the category of MBC (Most Backward Caste). The political labyrinth of Bihar’s Development Daedalus is built with caste and communalism, which is the bane of India. Nitish first weaned the lower caste Pasmanda Muslims away from RJD and Congress, becoming their champion against the minority Ashraf Muslims. He further consolidated his backwards-communal base by giving them reservation in panchayat and local body elections.

He developed Bihar’s caste Darwinism by carving a sub-caste out of the state’s 83 million Dalits—the Mahadalits—which he has now further subdivided into Super, Hyper, and Normal Mahadalits: a nomenclature that would’ve made the makers of Complan proud. He was also spiteful, excluding Paswans from the list, to snub Ram Vilas Pawan’s Lok Janshakti Party. The carpenter of the caste calculus had set up the EBC (Extremely Backward Caste) commission in 2006. Keeping the Yadavs (20 per cent of the Bihari population) out of the equation, Nitish has cultivated the 100-odd EBCs that make up about 32 per cent of voters. Meanwhile, the BJP relies on the support of the upper castes, consisting of Brahmins, Rajputs and Bhumihars. If the JD (U) decides to break with its ally on Modi, Nitish will lose the support of the upper castes. He also faces the Ranvir Sena backlash after legislators of his party were arrested for the murder of the Sena chief, Mukhiyaji.

But the Nitish Kumar-phenomenon is fast unraveling. His convoys are stoned, scams are rampant, crime is peaking and the growth model has been manipulated using a small calculation base. Ironically when the combine won the state for a second time in 2010, all political leaders called it a “victory of development over caste and religion”, in place of successful communal architecture. Nitish Kumar secretly wants to be Bihar’s Narendra Modi, but it takes more than caste combinations to create a national leader who straddles the development platform.

The BJP may need Nitish in Bihar now, but it is he who needs them on the national stage. Of the 40 MPs from Bihar, the BJP has 12 and the JD (U) 20. To be the king in 2014 is Nitish’s unbridled ambition. Unlike in fairy tales, all frogs do not get kissed to become princes in politics.
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