Mandal was a watershed moment in Indian politics as it blazed through massive resistance of the well-entrenched upper castes to institutionalise what the backward classes deemed was their share of public benefits, including in education and employment. The caste survey of Bihar goes beyond Mandal to make the distribution of public benefits more targeted and specific.
Hierarchy within backward classes
Backward classes was too broad and vague a category. The broadness and vagueness concealed an internal hierarchy in which certain castes cornered a large part of the public benefits. Mandal, which was supposed to break the social hierarchy, got mired in its own intricacies. Bihar had tried to break the walls of internal hierarchy within backward classes by creating a category of extremely backward classes, but the sharing of public benefits among the backward classes still eluded precise targeting.
The reason was there were hundreds of castes and sub-castes. And there were internal hierarchies among castes. These hierarchies had social as well as economic foundations. By enumerating all the castes, the caste census of Bihar seeks to make the sharing of public goods and services equitable. Each caste will get a proportionate share of public benefits. It aims to break the internal hierarchies among the backward classes. Since the census has enumerated the scheduled castes as well, it is going to impinge on their hierarchy, too.
Nitish Kumar's creation of 'Mahadalits'
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had earlier tried to break the internal hierarchy among the scheduled castes by creating a category called 'Mahadalits'. The caste census goes beyond the Mahadalit model. As for its electoral impact, the caste census is going to help the INDIA formulation in a big way in Bihar in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Both Nitish and RJD leader and deputy chief minister Tejaswi Yadav had resolutely gone for the caste census despite direct and indirect resistance from the BJP. Now, even Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has become a champion of caste census.
BJP on weak wicket
The BJP was on a weak wicket even otherwise, with the possible massive aggregation of votes of JD(U), RJD, Congress and Left parties in Bihar in 2024. The publication of the caste census is going to set off a post-Mandal storm in the state which might sweep the BJP off its feet. The BJP may face an adverse situation nationally, too, because other states are going to witness an upsurge in demand for a caste census on the Bihar model. The last thing the Hindu party wants is to see a post-Mandal socio-political implosion of 'Hindu community'.