Bihar elections and Quota Politics
Bhagwat, Vasundhara put the BJP in a tight spot
By Faraz Ahmad
The BJP is currently in a state of flutter sending out contradictory signals in the run up to the crucial Bihar assembly elections, a do or die battle not just for Mandal mascot Lalu Prasad and chief minister Nitish Kumar, as the media asserts every passing day, but more for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his lieutenant BJP president Amit Shah.
Even as Shah, together with his Dalit/OBC turn coat allies, Ram Vilas Paswan, Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi was filling up his lungs to steam roll Bihar with the support of Dalits, Mahadalits and Other Backward Castes (OBCs) added to a solid Savarana vote bank behind him, Hardik Patel suddenly popped up from nowhere in Modi/Amit Shah’s home state Gujarat calling for scrapping reservation to the SCs/STs and OBCs altogether or else a share in the quota for the upwardly mobile and highly prosperous Patels.
It is now evident that young Hardik owes the success of his agitation to the backing he is receiving from very influential forces, within the Parivar like Praveen Togadia.
RSS Sarasnghchalak Mohanrao Bhagwat cleared the air, if there were any doubts left, suggesting appointment of a committee of experts (naturally chosen by the Parivar) to examine afresh the whole question of reservation, adding that the reservation was conceived only as a temporary measure, implying it is high time it to scrap it altogether.
Trust Rajasthan chief minister Maharani Vasundhara Raje to catch the Sangh signals first and immediately come out with a 14 per cent quota for the upper caste. Why not? Her mother Rajmata Vijayraje the founder Vice president of the BJP, walked out of the Congress party in 1969 to protest the abolition of princely privy purses. The Maharani has shown the way to her counterpart in Gujarat, Anandiben Patel to follow suit, provide similar reservation to the Savarnas in the Aryavrat state of Gujarat and solve the problem raised by Hardik Patel.
Despite all the effort of the BJP to quietly bury the issue with formal denials by the likes of Ravi Shankar Prasad and that Intelligence Bureau (IB) Dalit Udit Raj, Bhagwat and the Maharani have kept alive the quota debate. Curiously The Times of India had the cheek today to predict that “Raje’s gambit will help the BJP outside state.” Significantly the writer, fully realizing the absurdity of such a proposition, has strangely chosen not to take a by line on this story. If the effort were to influence the Aryavrats in the Bihar polls, it would have helped for this would have definitely beckoned all the Savarnas to the BJP, but the results of the 2014 general elections are witness to the complete consolidation of the upper caste behind Narendra Modi. Besides, with Lalu Prasad on the other side, there is no question of the upper caste losing sight of defeating Lalu. But then the BJP did not sweep Bihar in 2014 only on upper caste votes. A large chunk of Backwards and Dalits had also rallied behind the BJP. One wonders how Paswan, Manjhi and Kushwaha would justify the timely anti-reservation moves being made by the Parivar and its top leaders.
Now it is common knowledge that BJP supporters mostly from the upper caste, are dead opposed to reservation and even the civilized and educated ones among them always refer to the Dalits and Backwards in Hospitals, schools, colleges, universities and offices where they work as “Quota wale.” These people are naturally thrilled at the suggestion about doing away with reservation altogether. Were Hardik Patel to extend his agitation against reservation outside Gujarat, he would get ready response without much effort. But the BJP has to contest elections and that too immediately in a highly politically conscious Bihar where Lalu Prasad’s main election plank is Mandal II. Ordinarily this may not have motivated the Backwards and Dalits much but for the deliberate provocation being provided by the likes of Mohan Bhagwat and Vasundhara Raje. I wonder who Bhagwat and Vasu are seeking to help? Or is this some internal sabotage going on against the Prime Minister while he is cruising away in the US of A?
Of course the BJP can turn around and say that the sentiment against reservation is not confined to it alone. Similar voices have started coming from the Congress camp also what with former ministers Manish Tiwari, Jitin Prasada and not to forget Janardhan Dwivedi all calling for scrapping the quota. But then Congress is only in an also ran position in Bihar and it is so obvious that Lalu is tolerating the Congress not because of Rahul whose boys have been firing these salvos, but in deference to Sonia Gandhi who has all along had a soft corner for the Backwards and Dalits.