The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks regarding the need to have a debate on caste based reservations appear to be having no impact at the ground level in the run-up to the Bihar Assembly elections. However, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) boss Lalu Prasad Yadav, fighting the polls with his back to the wall in alliance with his one time archrival Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and the Congress, is making a last ditch attempt to politicise the confrontation as a fight between the forwards and the backwards. For this, he is trying desperately to bring about an unlikely unity amongst the OBCs by using Bhagwat’s comments to build the thesis that the BJP was against reservations and if voted to power they would do away with any kind of affirmative action.
The BJP, which initially tried to downplay the RSS chief’s observations, first made in both the Sangh mouthpieces Oraganiser and Panchjanya and repeated again in Kulu, has now announced that the next Chief Minister of Bihar would be from amongst the backwards, a move that has not gone down too well with the forwards, who are unitedly backing the saffron brigade. The party’s detractors believe that the BJP has fallen into a trap, without realising that neither Bhagwat nor any BJP leader was a factor in the Assembly polls, which had nothing to do with either governance or development, but only caste.
The only two factors in Bihar are Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar. People are either with them or against them, and as things stand in view of the caste equations and permutations there are more people against them as compared to those in their favour. In political terms and simple arithmetic, it implies that the BJP and its allies are in the winning position, but by declaring that they would have a backward as a CM, the party has inadvertently committed a big mistake. The new stand surely would have ruffled many feathers amongst the hopefuls in the forwards of Bihar’s caste cauldron. The only matter that translates into victory or defeat in Bihar is the caste factor and this should never be forgotten by any political party. While Lalu is trying to use it to his advantage, the BJP leadership is seemingly not appreciating its worth, perhaps out of over confidence and complacency.
Mohan Bhagwat’s views on caste based reservations reflect the old RSS stand on the subject and before Mandalisation turned caste into a formidable election tool, the Sangh’s stress was always on forging unity amongst the Hindus regardless of which caste they belonged. His recent views were primarily aimed at countering the agitation by the Patel community in Gujarat, since the Patels too have been expressing similar opinion. Bhagwat and others in the Sangh and BJP know that if the Patels are not placated, the saffron hold over Gujarat would loosen. The RSS chief thus chose to consolidate what the Sangh has in hand, rather than being worried about what it hopes to have. But his opponents were quick to use his call for review of caste based reservation, to raise the heat in poll-bound Bihar. Fortunately for the BJP, the RSS sarsanghchalak is not a major player there and thus his opinion would impact only those who had chosen to fight against the BJP.
Another offshoot of the RSS chief’s comments is that adversaries of the BJP’s current leadership within the Parivar are interpreting it as the Sangh’s way of sabotaging the party’s prospects “due to their disillusionment with the way things stand”. While it is true that the outcome of the Bihar elections would have a bearing on the direction in which the country’s politics would move, it cannot be inferred by any stretch of imagination that it would impact the Central government in any manner. The BJP is likely to win and its government at the Centre would complete its full term. So far as the BJP president Amit Shah is concerned, his future would be determined by the National Executive and the plenary before the year is out. The RSS will leave it to the BJP to choose its own president and there is no evidence so far that Shah may not get a full term.
The battle lines are drawn clearly. The Battle of Bihar is between the NDA and the Grand Alliance. It is not between the BJP and the RSS, as some may be trying to portray.