Living on the outskirts of Muroh in Madhepura, Chattorishi Dev betrays no signs of his exalted status. He lives a life of penury, despite being the son of Kirai Mushar, the first MP from Madhepura, and hailing from the birthplace of BP Mandal, who in his lifetime had given a new meaning to affirmative action for the backward classes.
Mandal headed a commission that studied the condition of the backward castes in the 1980s. The adoption by the Centre of a part of his recommendations better known as the Mandal Commission Report led to a countrywide upheaval and 27% reservation in government jobs for the 'backward classes', in early 1990s.
But ask Dev and he tells you that all the talk of “social justice” has not helped him a bit. "My father agitated against landlords and mahajans and worked for the reformation of Dalits. Today, my house doesn’t even have a proper roof. What kind of social justice is this?"
Ahead of crucial assembly elections, Mandal, who died in 1982, is being resurrected again. RJD chief and former chief minister Lalu Yadav is pushing for “Mandal–2,” in a bid to make benefits for backward classes an election issue.
But Dev and a sizeable majority in Muroh are not overtly swayed by the election pitch.
“For the past 25 years, nothing has changed. These so-called sympathisers of Mandal come here, seek vote in his name and go back. Like every year, just one minister came to Muroh for his (Mandal’s) 97th birth anniversary this time," Dev pointed out.
Muroh is a bastion of Yadavs, one of the caste groups that the Mandal reservations were to benefit in the first place. Constituting over 14% of the electorate, Yadavs are a large voting bloc and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is wooing them furiously.
But most Yadavs even in Muroh are not enthused by the talk of Mandal-2. For one, the village stands testimony to the economic inequalities that still bedevil Bihar. Descendants of Mandal live in sprawling bungalows while poor village folk, including Yadavs, Brahmins, Muslims and Musahars, work on the farms owned by them.
“Since our experience with Mandal-1 has not been heartening and there is no concrete evidence of development of the backward community as a whole, I don't see Mandal-2 working either,” says Rajiv Yadav, a local activist.
Shivnath Yadav, a retired schoolteacher, goes a step forward. “This talk about Mandal-1 and Mandal-2 is absolute nonsense. Barring one recommendation of Mandal Commission for job reservation, all other proposals are yet to see the light of day. Nothing has been done for the upliftment of backward class,” he explains.
Even Jyoti Mandal, a close relative of late BP Mandal and a BJP ticket aspirant, is a tad disappointed. “The Mandal report wanted an egalitarian society. All it has resulted in is vote bank politics.”