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Patel agitation reveals chinks in the Grand Alliance in Bihar

Charu Kartikeya | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:17 IST

Contradictory voices

  • Congress General Secretary Gurudas Kamat has come out in support of the Patidar agitation
  • He has said that there should be reservation for economically deprived sections
  • Congress\' allies, JD(U) and RJD, have a different viewpoint on the matter

Pandora\'s box

  • The Patidar agitation has opened the Pandora\'s box on quotas
  • No party seems to know how to handle the issue

More in the story

  • What is the Congress seeking to achieve?

The Patidar-agitation in Gujarat is proving to be quite a test for all the political parties vying for power in Bihar.

In an attempt to use the anti-BJP sentiment of the agitation for its own benefit, the Congress has come out in full support of the demands of the Patidars.

AICC General Secretary in charge of Gujarat, Gurudas Kamat, said in Ahmedabad on October 1 that the demands of the Patidars are justified and the party would ask the Gujarat government to fulfill them.

However, Kamat's statement wasn't limited to only Patidars and Gujarat. He also announced the Congress party's new-found belief that reservation benefits should be extended to economically weaker sections across castes. Essentially, this is a call for reservation for upper castes across the country.

Congress & JD(U) are not on the same page

This is a clear indication of a wide divergence in the views of the member parties of the 'Grand Alliance' in Bihar on reservation.

Alliance leader JD(U) is split in its stand on the issue, with ample indications that it is not entirely comfortable with the idea of extending quotas to more and more castes.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and JD(U)'s official spokesperson KC Tyagi had both supported the demands of the Patidar-Patels earlier, saying that castes similar to Patels are in the OBC list in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and UP and it is only logical that Gujarat's Patels should be included in the OBC list of the state."

Gurudas Kamat said that Congress favours reservation for economically weaker sections across castes

However, party president Sharad Yadav said that Patels of Gujarat were well-off and did not need reservation.

As far as the issue of reservation for economically weaker sections among upper castes is concerned, Tyagi told Catch that JD(U) was not against it, as long as the existing quotas are not disturbed and new quotas are created.

However, Tyagi also called the issue a Pandora's box and said that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is responsible for opening it by calling for a review of the reservation policy.

Sharad Yadav told reporters on 1 October that BJP should stop raising the quota issue, otherwise other castes too will start demanding reservations before every election?

It is interesting to note that Nitish Kumar had set up an Upper Castes Commission in 2011 to assess the status and number of the poor among upper castes and suggest remedial measures.

However, the report of this Commission, submitted only by the fag end of Kumar's second term, in April 2015, recommended extending benefits of welfare schemes to the upper caste poor, not reservation.

RJD's stand

While Lalu Prasad had announced "full support" for the demand for reservation by Patidar-Patels, the party won't back quotas for upper caste poor.

Dismissing the idea of reservation on the basis of economic deprivation, RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha told Catch, "Reservation is not a poverty alleviation programme or an employment guarantee programme. Unfortunately, some of our friends in the Congress also do not understand this."

The Patels of Gujarat too, Jha added, are mistaken in the analysis of their condition. Jha also demanded the release of the caste census data.

As Bihar inches closer to the Assembly elections, both the leading electoral alliances now seem to be playing the backward caste card. Lalu has publicly said that the elections will be a fight between the forward castes and the upper castes, identifying rival NDA with the latter. In an attempt to counter this campaign, BJP has also announced that if NDA wins, its chief minister will not be from the upper castes.

In such a scenario, why Congress chose this moment to make a statement to appease the upper castes is baffling.

According to political analyst Shashi Bhushan, former Senior Fellow at the Patna-based A N Sinha Institute for Social Studies, the Congress is fighting on several seats that are home to upper castes. So this could be a ploy to appeal to them, but it is quite likely that it might end up hurting the party and the alliance in Dalit and OBC constituencies, Bhushan added.

In decoding the changing nature of reservation politics, it is important to remember that while winning Bihar is crucial for both the alliances, it is not the last stop. Gujarat, the heart of the Patidar agitation will also be going to polls in two years and so will Uttar Pradesh, before the grand finale of Lok Sabha elections 2019. Irrespective of the mandate that will come in November, the debate on reservations is not likely to end with the Bihar polls.

First published: 3 October 2015, 4:05 IST
Charu Kartikeya @CharuKeya

Assistant Editor at Catch, Charu enjoys covering politics and uncovering politicians. Of nine years in journalism, he spent six happily covering Parliament and parliamentarians at Lok Sabha TV and the other three as news anchor at Doordarshan News. A Royal Enfield enthusiast, he dreams of having enough time to roar away towards Ladakh, but for the moment the only miles he's covering are the 20-km stretch between home and work.