When Nitish Kumar became the chief minister of Bihar on November 24, 2005 many political observers held casteism responsible for the downfall of 15-year old Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi government. They then showered praise on the new CM and claimed that the new government would be free of all these social evils.
One and a half decade later, though Bihar has witnessed some developments, ‘casteist’ approach of the present regime is once again being blamed for the present situation.
The irony is that this time there is no Mandal Commission report to create social divide in the state. Yet talk to unemployed youths and one would soon get an idea how much dismayed and disillusioned they are with the existing set up in Bihar. Not only that, casteism is blended with some sort of regionalism as well.
“One should be of royal blood if you want to get the work done in Bihar,” was how once the RJD leader and former minister Abdul Bari Siddiqui, publicly commented. By ‘royal blood’ he obviously meant Kurmi, the caste to which Nitish Kumar belongs. Though Nitish always tried to maintain an image of being a leader free of caste bias, yet he never minded when he was given credit for the success of Kurmi Rally held in Patna on Feb 12, 1992, when he used to be in the then Janata Dal and was a close lieutenant to ‘Bade Bhai’ Lalu Prasad. The truth, however, is that all the ground work for the success of that Kurmi Rally was prepared by Satish Kumar, then another towering leader of that caste in Bihar.
In 2020 in the post-lockdown Bihar the general impression among many youths is that if you are a Kurmi and if you are of Nalanda, the home district of Nitish Kumar, you would certainly get preferential treatment be it in jobs, promotion, postings, businesses, government contracts etc.
Herein lies the anger of youths educated or not so-educated, skilled or not so-skilled, upper caste, backward or Dalit–as well as migrant workers who have returned to the state after the hasty announcement of lockdown on March 24 last.
Whether this widespread and strong resentment will have its impact on the electoral prospect of the NDA cannot be predicted at this moment yet one thing appears to be visible: this lot is in no mood to be impressed by ‘chunawi-jumla’ (election rhetoric) of the bigwigs of BJP and Janata Dal United. This may be one reason why ‘Dislike’ outnumbered ‘Like’ in most of the social media platforms on recent speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He addressed half a dozen times in the last few days while ‘inaugurating’ big projects for poll-bound Bihar. The anger was more pronounced on the speeches in which Modi applauded Nitish for the ‘good’ works he had done.
As Kurmis—otherwise a very small caste–are concentrated in Nalanda and some parts of neighbouring Patna district they always had a sort of advantage. As Nalanda was till a few decades back a part of undivided Patna district a large number of them got early opportunities in jobs and other businesses. The proximity to the centre of power helped them become educationally, economically and even politically the most empowered backward caste in Bihar. Apart from old Patna district, Kurmis have a sizeable presence in Kahalgaon sub-division of Bhagalpur district.
Though Yadavs are numerically five to six times more stronger than Kurmis their presence in many fields is insignificant when compared to the latter. While the presence of Kurmis in bureaucracy, technocracy, medical-related business is quite palpable.
Even during the high time of Lalu-Rabri raj, the number of top officials, doctors, academics, engineers etc. belonging to Yadav caste could only be counted on fingers.
Even the critics of the Lalu regime would concede that Yadavs at most can be ‘thanedar’ (SHOs), ‘thikedar’ (contractors) and ‘rangdars’ (local strongmen). There were a handful of doctors and hardly any direct IAS or IPS officer belonging to Yadav caste. Gorelal Yadav was the only officer to reach the post of secretary and that was mostly in rural development department. He was an Indian Economic Service officer. Almost all the Yadav officers got promoted from the state services.
In contrast Patna and Nalanda itself got several DMs and SPs of Kurmis caste. Besides, in the last one decade, many big private hospitals and nursing homes belonging to Kurmi caste cropped up throughout Patna.
This is not to mention the disproportionately high proportion of para-teachers, nurses, constables etc. belonging to this caste being appointed in the last 15 years.
As Yadavs are educationally not so developed even during the Lalu-Rabri regime it was Kurmis, Koeris, and Banias who were the beneficiaries of the social justice quota so far as bureaucracy is concerned. Even many Muslims got the opportunity to get better representation than now.
There is now a rampant feeling among the people, cutting across caste lines, that they had much better job opportunities in the previous 15 years than now. Nalanda district had earned a unique notoriety: whenever there is any leak of question paper of any competitive exam across the country the police often see a link to the home turf of Bihar CM.