Much as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pretends otherwise, there is a perception that its ally in Bihar, the Janata Dal-United (JD-U), may already be preparing for life without it.
The Bihar Backward Classes Commission’s move to include telis and surhis in the list of extremely backward castes (EBCs) is being seen as a move in that direction.
The two castes, for long part of the BJP’s core support base, are relatively prosperous and between them constitute about 60 per cent of the bania population in Bihar.
At present, telis and surhis are among 43 castes on the other backward classes (OBC) list. Their ‘promotion’ to the 112-strong EBC list will entitle them to reservation in panchayati raj institutions and urban local bodies, a facility OBCs in Bihar do not enjoy.
Inclusion in the EBCs list will also make them eligible for a larger quantum of reservation in government jobs than they have as OBCs.
Kishori Das, an EBC activist, is leading a campaign to oppose the “government-backed” move. “Telis and Surhis, being moneyed, will swamp the weaker groups that are already there in the EBC category,” he complained.
But Das also has a larger, political point to make. “This move is calculated to undercut the bania support base of the BJP. For, the credit for giving EBC status to telis and surhis will go to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar,” he said.
Loktantrik Samata Dal leader PK Sinha agreed. “Bhumihars, so firmly with the BJP during the Lalu-Rabri years, have already switched loyalty to the JD-U. Now it is the turn of the telis and surhis.”
JD-U president Sharad Yadav’s scathing criticism of the BJP, at his party’s recent national executive meeting, has been seen in the light of the diminishing value the ruling party now has for its ally.
“Nitish has won over the EBCs by giving them reservation, is wooing Mahadalits with the promise of land and has made inroads among Muslims. He doesn’t need the BJP for next year’s assembly polls,” Sinha said.
Then, there’s the issue of allegiance. “Almost every newly-elected BJP MP in Bihar called upon the CM to thank him. Not many visited the BJP office,” pointed out a BJP veteran who did not wish to be named.
This, he said, was only natural, considering “the BJP contested the election in Nitish Kumar’s name and on his agenda. The party is left with nothing it can call its own”.
But state BJP president Radha Mohan Singh is apparently unruffled. “The alliance is going strong. There is no problem,” he said.