16/03/2009


The EBC of the Backward Caste politics in Bihar


Soroor Ahmed*

 

 

 

Patna, (Bihar Times): With about 30 per cent population the Extreme Backward Castes form the largest social conglomeration in Bihar. Yet the problem with them is that they are not one cohesive group, but comprises several dozens castes––many of them having the population of just ½ or ¼ per cent of the state population. In that way they are politically the weakest group as well.

 

 



Unlike the Other Backward Castes such as Kurmi, Koeri, Bania and Yadav the Extreme Backward Castes also known as Most Backward Castes, at present do not enjoy a big political clout. If Lalu Prasad comes from Yadav caste, Nitish Kumar from Kurmi, Upendra Kushwaha from Koeri and Sushil Kumar Modi from the Bania there is no such towering leader from any of the EBC. Even the 15.1 per cent Dalits, though divided into 22 sub-castes, can boast of having Ram Vilas Paswan as their leader in Bihar––and of course Mayawati in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

Incidentally Lalu, Nitish and Paswan––if not Modi––to much extent, owe their present position to the two-time chief minister and veteran socialist leader Karpoori Thakur, who hailed from Nai caste, which falls in the category of Extreme Backward Castes. But that is history and now all the political parties and alliances are trying to win the support of the EBCs.

Though Karpoori Thakur never associated himself to any caste the problem with the present set of leaders is that they are one way or the other linked with the caste to which they belong. The irony is that even during his period it is the OBCs who became more empowered and not the EBCs. Even the JP movement threw up more Other Backward Castes leaders than the EBCs.

In the last couple of decades Kurmis, Koeris and Banias did well educationally, politically and economically. Yadavs, who already enjoyed the advantage of numerical superiority, too got empowered in the last 20 to 30 years. But the progress of the EBCs was much slower.

However, immediately after coming to the power the present Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, took a major step to woo the support of this section of the society. His government announced 20 per cent reservation to the EBCs in the panchayats. Needless to reiterate Nitish wanted to replace the then existing power structure at the grassroots level. Since he already increased the quota for women from 33 per cent to 50 per cent and 16 per cent was already reserved for the Dalits there were very few seats left unreserved for the Upper Caste males.

Nitish is leaving no stone unturned to allure the EBCs as many of them are still inclined towards the RJD and LJP. At times he did try to project Ramnath Thakur, the son of Karpoori Thakur, also a minister in his cabinet, as the leader of the EBCs. The ground reality is that while in the last three years Upendra Kushwaha succeeded in projecting himself as a Koeri leader of some reckoning none from the EBCs has managed to establish himself. In fact this period saw the decline of Captain Jai Narayan Nishad, who come from Nishad or Sahni, one of the largest of the Extreme Backward Castes. The Captain, after leaving the RJD, switched sides so many times that he lost his own standing.

However, much depends on distribution of tickets to the EBCs by various parties. Just 20 per cent reservation at the panchayat level may not work at the national level election as many EBC leaders know that the state government showed this generosity towards them as it wanted to get rid of the political clout of the Yadavs at the third tier of the democracy. They certainly want more at the state and national level politics. It remains to be seen which way the EBCs vote.


(The author is a Patna-based free lance journalist).


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