Advantage Nitish, but caste-economic survey shows how Bimaru Bihar is

Bihar's Mandal 2.0 exercise yields a bipartisan nod for a quota hike bill in the Assembly as caste census data fuels political debate on social justice and identity politics.
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustrations)
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustrations)

PATNA: Armed with empirical data on the population of all castes and sub-castes in the state as well as their economic status, the Bihar Assembly recently opened the Mandal 2.0 door by approving a bill to raise the quota ceiling from the Supreme Court-mandated 50 per cent to 65 per cent. The overall size of the reservation basket in the state will now be 75 per cent as 10 per cent is to be allocated to the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) of society.

The Mandal 2.0 exercise began peacefully as there was complete unanimity in the Assembly in approving the bill. The only voice of dissonance came from Hindustani Awam Morcha founder Jitan Ram Manjhi, who questioned the caste survey's outcome on the floor of the House, thus appearing to align with Union Home Minister Amit Shah who recently alleged that the data was cooked up to inflate the numbers of Yadavs and Muslims while suppressing the headcount of the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs).

In an uncharacteristic outburst, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar screamed at his one-time protégé, admitting he made a stupid call by installing Manjhi as chief minister while stepping down from that post in 2014.

"He keeps saying he too has been a chief minister. He became chief minister because of my stupidity. Does he have any sense (Ye bolta hai ki hum Mukhyamantri the. Meri moorkhta ki vajah see mukhyamantri bana. Isko koi sense hai)," Nitish fumed, despite his colleagues tugging at his kurta trying to calm him down.

Manjhi, a prominent Dalit leader, is in the opposition camp now. Such intemperate language from a seasoned politician who dreams of occupying the highest chair in the land was rather surprising. Just the other day, he created a huge controversy by graphically describing copulation in the Assembly while explaining how the education of girls helped reduce fertility in the state.

Mandal 2.0 resonated with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's pitch for Jitni abadi utna haq (rights proportional to population) as the amendment bill proposed to enhance OBC reservation to 18 per cent, EBCs to 25 per cent, SCs 20 per cent and STs 2 per cent.

It's a big leap from the current quota for OBCs, which is 12 per cent, EBCs 18 per cent, SCs 16 per cent and STs less than 1 per cent.  For context, the caste-wise composition of the Bihar Assembly at present is OBCs 33 per cent, EBCs 11 per cent, Muslims 7 per cent, SCs 15 per cent, STs less than 1 per cent and general category 24.58 per cent.

When Rahul first made the proportional rights pitch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had mocked him, asking if welfare benefits to Muslims should be restricted since they constitute just 17.7 per cent of the population in Bihar.

The BJP has since nuanced its stand, realising that the Congress promise for caste census in all poll-bound states is possibly striking a chord. Shah recently said the BJP is not against caste census but does not want to rush into it without examining all its implications.

No wonder then that the party voted with the ruling Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) to pass the amendment bill to raise the quota cap. The BJP keeps underlining that it was part of the delegation led by Nitish that met top BJP leaders at the Centre demanding caste census in Bihar when the former was with the NDA.

The bill was yet another step towards identity politics and social justice, a brand of politics pursued by both Nitish and his fellow ideological traveller and RJD boss Lalu Prasad. It has also been passed by the Legislative Council. It now awaits Governor Rajendra Vishwanath Arlekar's assent. With the 2024 Lok Sabha election barely five months away, Nitish's latest gambit could enhance his stature within the Opposition's INDIA bloc.

Whether or not he would be made INDIA's convener despite direct and indirect feelers from his Janata Dal (United) for an honourable position in the grouping remains to be seen. Nitish recently criticised the Congress publicly as INDIA has remained static since the grand old party is too tied up with state elections to look at the bigger picture.

Former Patna University teacher Prof Nawal Kishore Choudhary said the increase in the Bihar quota regime would put pressure on the BJP. The caste survey, he said, was conducted to revive Mandal politics to counter BJP's Kamandal politics.

He expects the Mahagathbandhan government in Bihar to benefit from the hike in the quota pie. Nitish, he added, scored a tactical point by conducting the caste survey as even Marxist parties that traditionally harp on politics of classes have now started talking about castes.

EBCs have highest population

According to the caste data, the OBC and EBC population in Bihar is 27.13 per cent and 36.01 per cent, respectively. Their combined strength is 63 per cent of the state's total population, which is over 13.1 crore. At 14.26 per cent, Yadavs constitute the biggest caste chunk among the OBCs. The size of the Kushwaha caste is 4.21 per cent and that of Kurmis - the caste Nitish belongs to - is 2.8 per cent. Nitish said he was surprised at the Kurmi data; the popular sense before the survey was that it had much more numbers.

As for the SCs, the caste data placed their population at 19.65 per cent and STs at 1.68 per cent. The population of the general category was 15.52 per cent. Among upper castes, the Brahmins had the highest headcount at 3.65 per cent. Rajputs followed with 3.45 per cent, Bhumihars 2.86 per cent and Kayasthas less than 1 per cent.

95.5 per cent do not own vehicles

The survey threw up the surprising figure of 95.49 per cent of people (12.48 crore) in the state not owning any vehicle. That was one index of poverty in Bihar that is yet to shake off its Bimaru (sick) state tag. According to the report, the number of four-wheeler owners is 0.44 per cent of the total population, which works out to 5,72,146, while 3.8 per cent (49,62,000) have two-wheelers. On the other hand, 0.11 per cent (1,42,689) have three-wheelers while only 0.03 per cent (40,336) have vehicles with six or more wheels. A total of 11.99 lakh of the 2.01 crore people belonging to the general category own two-wheelers.

34.13 per cent earn less than 200 a day

The survey found that 34.13 per cent of the total 2.76 crore families (nearly 94 lakh families) are economically poor and earn less than Rs 6,000 a month, which translates to Rs 200 a day. It includes 42.93 per cent SCs and 42.70 per cent STs. Given their acute poverty, the Nitish government plans to provide one-time assistance of  Rs 2 lakh each to these 94 lakh families to take up some form of economically productive work. Besides, Rs 1 lakh families that do not have a roof over their heads would get support for the construction of houses.

While the poverty data is an eye-opener, the Lalus and Nitishs cannot escape blame for the horrible state of affairs in the state. They have been at the helm of the government for decades. Such dismal numbers naturally question Nitish's claim of development in the state.

As for the count of families earning between Rs 6,000 and Rs 10,000 per month, it is 29.61 per cent. It means the number of families in the state with an income of up to Rs 10,000 per month or Rs 334 a day is more than 63 per cent. Their total count is a whopping 82 lakh. Those earning above Rs 6,000 per month do not fall within the government's economically poor category. As many as 33.16 per cent of OBCs and 33.58 per cent of EBCs are poor.

Even within the general category, 25.32 per cent of people are poor, most of whom are Bhumihars (25.3 per cent) followed by Brahmins (25.3 per cent), Rajputs (24.89 per cent) and Kayasthas (13.83 per cent). Among Muslims, 25.84 per cent of Sheikhs, 22.2 per cent of Pathans (Khan) and 17.61 per cent of Sayyids are poor.


The survey showed that 67 per cent of people — 88.2 million — are housewives and students. Only 1.57 per cent (2 million) have government jobs; 1.22 per cent (1.59 million) have private jobs in the organised sector; 2.14 per cent (2.79 million) work in the private unorganised sector; 3.05 per cent (3.9 million) are self-employed; 7.70 per cent (10.7 million) are farmers or agricultural help; and 16.73 per cent (21.8 million) are labourers.

Unsurprisingly, 3.19 per cent of people in the general category are government employees, compared to 0.98 per cent of EBCs, 1.13 per cent of SCs and 1.37 per cent of STs. General category castes such as Bhumihars, Brahmins and Kayasthas have the highest share of government jobs.


Roughly 36.76 per cent of the state's population lives in two-room or bigger houses, but 26.54 per cent are housed in tin-roofed rooms, and another 14.09 per cent in hutments. A little more than half of all people in the general category live in two-room houses or bigger accommodations, compared to 24.26 per cent of SCs and 25.81 per cent of STs.


The survey revealed that 3.5 per cent of the state's population is working in other states.

The break-up: general category 5.68 per cent, backward classes 3.30 per cent, EBCs 3.3 per cent, SCs 2.5 per cent and STs 2.84 per cent. A major chunk of people belonging to the general category live abroad or are in other states for studies. In all, 0.17 per cent of Biharis work abroad and 0.02 per cent are in educational institutions outside India.

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