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Caste Bogey

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The Bihar Government has released the results of its caste census and it doesn’t shed light in any unusual way on the condition of the people. Maybe a couple of castes comprise a larger percentage of the population, how does it reflect on the socio-economic reality of the state? Will it now be the task of the politicians and their academic fellow travellers to interpret the percentages in a way that the demand for proportional reservation can be legitimised? Is there data on the economic condition of each section of society, their employment status and what their social reality is?

It is certain that this census will be used to try and win electoral advantages, but it will be a difficult job. Whatever the arguments used to create a sense of resentment among those considered deprived sections of society can be projected in other ways. Also, there is no guarantee that the various ‘EBCs’ and ‘OBCs’ will be willing to come together on a platform that may actually empower rival castes more than them. After all, it is a fact that reservations of various kinds have ended up benefitting only the small, better-off sub-castes at the cost of the majority. This is a lived reality for many who are enduring exclusion, and are also otherwise neglected because they have been provided reservations.

It is also a fact that India has moved on from the time that ‘social justice’ movements provided a boost to caste-oriented politics. This may seem unreal but it will be tested as politics takes off in this new perspective. One needs only to look at social media environment to realise how, even in the smallest of villages, people have developed a self-image beyond the traditional models, particularly the youth.

It is unlikely that there will be any different results if similar counts are done in other states. The caste census bogey has value only if the ruling BJP is thought to be afraid of it. Once the data does become available – whatever its accuracy – it is for everyone to interpret and use as they deem fit. The eagerness for proportional representation is only seen among one or two of the castes more numerous than others, which have transformed into political clans, or are aspiring to. (The recently reported demand for a ‘Jat dominated’ state formed out of western UP is obviously based on such calculations.) The coming days will show how politics responds to this latest development.