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As Nitish Tries to Nullify Hindutva through Caste-based Census, Modi Govt Walks a Tightrope

File photo of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar with PM Narendra Modi.

File photo of Bihar CM Nitish Kumar with PM Narendra Modi.

The Centre recently rejected a proposal of the Bihar government to include the Mallah caste in SC list and sought further justification for the recommendation.

The Centre has recently rejected a proposal of the Bihar government to include the Mallah caste in the list of Scheduled Castes arguing that the Registrar General of India did not support the proposal based on realistic data.

The plea regarding the Bind caste, variation of the Mallah or Nishad, has been referred back to Bihar with a request to review or further justify the recommendation.

The Centre’s denial seems to be a fallout of the continuing game of one-upmanship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar over gaining votes of the numerically preponderant Mallah community among the backward castes and holding of caste-based census in 2021.

Kumar’s government had sent a recommendation to the Centre to include the Mallah community in the SC category in 2015. He has also been pitching for caste-based census to quantify the ratio of the backward castes. It has not just been a political demand, but both houses of the Bihar legislature had also unanimously passed a resolution in this regard and sent it to the Centre.

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These caste-related proposals will prove to be a two-edged sword for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which pursues aggressive Hindutva agenda to unify different castes under one umbrella.

The BJP has benefited from the Hindutva agenda since 2014 by smashing regional parties like the Janata Dal-U (JD-U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and other parties which have flourished since 1991 due to their aggressive casteist agenda.

Hence, if the Centre approves the Bihar government’s proposal, it will help nourish the regional parties and weaken the sway of the BJP.

The proposal for inclusion of the Mallah (Nishad) and Nonia castes in the Scheduled Caste category was a masterstroke of the JD(U) supremo in his bid to woo them. The fishermen community is most populous among 128 castes of EBC, which account for about 30 per cent of Bihar’s population.

Kumar’s baiters dubbed it as a conspiracy to dupe the Mallah community. They argued that Mallahs can be included in the SC category only through a Constitutional amendment. A similar proposal sent by the Uttar Pradesh government in 2013 for inclusion of 17 castes, including Mallahs, in the SC category was spurned by the Centre contending that any inclusion in or exclusion from the list of Scheduled Castes can be effected through an Act of Parliament as envisaged under clause (2) of Article 341 of the Constitution.

The total population of the Mallah community stands nearly at 1.5 crore and they are socially, economically and educationally backward today. No one from this community has been selected in the premier IAS since independence. There are only three MLAs, including two ministers, in Bihar.

Initially, Kumar’s government had sent the recommendation for the inclusion of the Mallah community in the Scheduled Tribe list in 2015. However, under political pressure, the government had to send a second recommendation for its inclusion in the list of Scheduled Caste.

The state government had also got an ethnographic report prepared on the Mallah community but it was not considered favourably until the advent of Mukesh Sahani in politics. Sahani, also called ‘son of Mallah’, has declared to take this issue to a logical end after reviewing the objections. Sahani has high stakes involved as his politics hinges on the inclusion of Mallahs in the SC list.

The Mallahs and Binds do not get adequate share as there are 128 castes in the EBC list in Bihar. They will get a higher percentage only after their inclusion in the SC community. However, the SC community has been opposing the inclusion of the backward castes arguing that their quota will be encroached upon by the castes willing to get into the SC list.

Unlike the politics of exclusion pursued for certain communities earlier, it is inclusive politics now revolving around castes in Bihar and the various political parties have been giving a push to identity politics to secure their votes.

Therefore, to ensure a proportionate share of quota, the various regional political parties are demanding caste-based census. Kumar is one of the prominent champions of caste-based census and argues that it was imperative to determine proportionate quotas for different castes based on their numbers.

According to the 1931 Census, the backward castes constitute 52 per cent of the total population. In 2011, the then central government conducted socio-economic surveys to get data on caste and economic status of every household. However, the caste data were withheld citing certain ‘discrepancies’ in it.

According to the current quota policy, the Centre has three broad categories as Other Backward Castes (OBCs), General and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservation in jobs and admissions in government educational institutions.

In Bihar, besides the SCs and STs, the disadvantaged castes are divided into Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and Backward Castes (BCs) and listed as Annexure 1 and Annexure 2, respectively. Kumar wants the Centre to follow the Bihar formula, also called Karpoori Thakur formula, for the OBCs having 27 per cent quota in jobs.

However, the Centre is likely to give a relook into the matter only after getting recommendations of the commission, headed by Justice G Rohini. The commission was set up to make sub-categorisation of the OBCs and equitable distribution of the 27 per cent quota.

The Supreme Court has also accepted a plea seeking directions to the Centre to conduct caste-based census this year. The plea has been filed by social activist G Mallesh Yadav of Telangana. He argued that lack of proper data is creating problems in determining the percentage of quota for backward castes proportionate to their population.

It is argued that the number of backward castes in the initial list of Mandal Commission stood at 3,743 but the number has been revised at 5,013, as per the National Commission for Backward Classes. It is understood that a chunk of the jobs and admissions are grabbed by 25 per cent castes among over 2,600 castes listed in the OBC category. As reservation is a politically sensitive issue, the Modi government would not like to fiddle with it. Already, Dalit Christians and Muslims are demanding quota in SC category like Buddhists and Sikhs.