Millennium Post

No point beating around the Mandal bush

By leading a march to the Raj Bhavan in Patna on July 13 and demanding the immediate release of the Centre’s caste-based census data, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad Yadav had claimed that the event was a revival of the Mandal agitation. Lalu, however, did not underline the parameters within which the movement would be built. The RJD chief also did not clarify the reasons for his optimism.

Being a seasoned politician, Lalu ought to remember that 25 years have passed since the Mandal agitation was launched. It is safe to suggest that the agitation did change the political contours of this country. Nonetheless, 25 years is quite a long period in the life of a nation. The generation, which led the movement and championed the Mandal politics, is in a state of collective amnesia and fading away. While market forces have blunted the politics behind the agitation, the central protagonists are finding it tough to correlate its ideals to the ground realities. Significantly, during this period, two generations have emerged on the politico-economic horizon under the shadow of neo-liberal policies and economic reforms.

These generations do not share all the political perceptions and ideological moorings of the movement. The then prime minister, V P Singh, accepted the recommendations of the Mandal Commission on August 1990 for the reservation of the Other Backward Castes, and thereby, heralded the launch of Mandal politics. 

Although reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were already present, the Mandal Commission recommendations had for the first time proposed reservations in as many as 27 per cent seats for 3,742 other backward castes/classes. Though the Commission had submitted its report on December 31, 1980, it was discussed both by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in 1982. However, no action was taken in 1982.

Since then, the Indian economy has undergone a sea change. Many among the OBCs now have a major say in key decision-making processes across state institutions. The fact of the matter is the OBC of 2015 is not the OBC of 1990. A paradigm shift has taken place in their attitude and approach to the electoral process.

In fact, a new class of Mahadalits has emerged as the focal point of the new caste mobilisation. No doubt, the OBC continues to have a significant place in the political system. However, the Mahadalits have been dictating the political line in Bihar. This was basically the reason why the BJP roped in Jitan Ram Manjhi, the new face of the Mahadalits.

No doubt Lalu ought to keep his flock together. With the BJP on a poaching mission, Lalu has been resorting to these tactics only to tighten his grip on this section. But he must realise that any attempt to build a new Mandal movement would prove to be a futile exercise. This would simply alienate the Mahadalits from his camp and would pitch them against the OBC. While Lalu has been trying to protect his support base, Nitish has been desperate in his bid to reach out to the Mahadalits. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that Nitish has succeeded in his mission to a large extent. The spirit of Mandal politics, therefore, may not have any place in the coming Bihar elections.  

In fact, Lalu’s endeavour should be viewed as a shrewd move to prevent Narendra Modi from claiming the position of “messiah” of the backward castes. Lalu’s attack on Amit Sharma for projecting Modi as the first backward caste leader to become the prime minister ought to be viewed in this backdrop. 

Decrying Modi’s claims, Lalu said that he would launch a bigger movement than the Mandal agitation of the 1990s “if the Modi government failed to make the caste-based census data public”. No doubt the caste-based census figures would be of great help in formulating policies for the poor and downtrodden. “On the basis of new data we will demand a separate Budget for education and employment for those castes lagging behind,” Lalu quipped. This assertion by the RJD chief is simply populist in nature and content. He must look at ground realities and the societal changes that are taking place in the state.  

Notwithstanding the provision of reservations, many students are not even getting sufficient openings. The fact remains that the prospect of employment remains bleak. Most students are haunted by the nightmare of unemployment. Besides, the fact of the matter is that these recommendations are not based on caste, as is wrongly understood by most people. While the Rajputs in Bihar are not included in the list, their fellow brethren in Gujarat are included. Meanwhile, the Patels of Bihar are in the list but their brethren in Gujarat are not; and the Yadav of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are included but their brethren in Haryana are not. The situation of a particular caste in each state is therefore rather different.

During the last twenty-five years, the economic and social character of the OBC has completely transformed. If the OBCs have been empowered economically, they have been become the fulcrum of the development mechanism. The politics of growth revolves around them. In fact in the existing situation the main contradiction lies between the OBC and <g data-gr-id="74">Mahadalits</g>.

True enough, the BJP has come to realise this notion and basically this was the reason why the leadership has been trying to weave a new social combination with the tacit dominance of Dalits and Mahadalits. The receding economic and social relevance of Lalu’s brand of politics is also apparent from the fact that sizeable sections of the OBC, especially the creamy layer and those who belong to the upper strata, have been searching for new political alignments. It ought to be mentioned that the criteria for identifying the OBC was politically motivated and not based on any scientific methods. The criteria adopted by the Mandal Commission to determine social, educational and economic backwardness of caste does not hold much water.

Lalu ought to realise that a young OBC student’s circumstances have wildly changed from 1990 to 2015. His/her priorities have changed and goals have shifted. The next generation may not subscribe to his political line. The urban population has multiplied many times. 

To a greater extent, the level of income and occupation does influence social status rather than caste. During these years, there has been a substantial growth in enrollment towards higher education. The increase in the number of SC/ST students shows that the spread of higher education among backward sections has grown remarkably. IPA
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