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Bihar governor attends BJP-backed ‘caste meeting’, Sushil Modi says it’s for social harmony

The public meeting was organised on 27 August by the BJP-backed Nonia, Bind & Bedar Mahasangh. Governor Chauhan belongs to Nonia caste.

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Patna: Bihar Governor Fagu Chauhan has raised eyebrows in the state’s political circle after he attended a “caste meeting” in Patna earlier this week. His action has drawn a lot of criticism from the Opposition.

The public meeting was organised earlier this week by an organisation, Nonia, Bind & Bedar Mahasangh, which is backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Nonia, Bind and Bedar communities are ‘extremely backward castes’ or EBC, and are found mostly in West Champaran district. People belonging to these communities usually dig soil for a living.

Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi was also present at the meeting on 27 August, besides other BJP leaders.

Modi, while addressing the gathering, lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi for appointing nine governors who belonged to the lower castes. He, however, did not name anyone.

Governor Chauhan, who belongs to Nonia caste, agreed to the deputy CM and said he holds a constitutional post despite belonging to a lower caste. “Support the man who has done so much for you,” he added.

BJP minister Braj Kishore Bind, however, gave caste politics a whole new dimension at the event when he said Lord Shiva belonged to Bind caste

When ThePrint contacted him for a comment, Bind said: “What is wrong. I have quoted the Shiv Purana. If Lord Krishna can be a Yadav and Lord Ram a Rajput, why can’t Lord Shiva be a Bind?”

Sushil Modi defended him too on this. “Even Lalu Prasad used to say that Lord Shiva was the god of downtrodden.”


Also read: The golden era of caste politics is still ahead of us


It wasn’t a caste meeting, says BJP

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has criticised Chauhan for participating in the event. 

RJD national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari told ThePrint that this was the first time a governor had attended a “caste meeting”, backed by a political party.

“In my long political career, I knew about a Bihar governor who had been charged with stealing Raj Bhavan items, a governor whose son was accused of corruption, and many governors who were hostile to the state government. But this is the first time a governor has attended a caste meeting, which was sponsored by a political party,” said Tiwari.

The BJP, however, defended Chauhan and denied that it was a caste meeting.

“It was not a caste meeting. It was a symposium on social harmony in Bihar,” Deputy CM Modi told ThePrint.


Also read: Did the British invent caste in India? Yes, at least how we see it now


EBCs — a major vote bank

When the Modi government appointed Chauhan as the governor of Bihar in July, after shifting his reluctant predecessor Lalji Tandon to Madhya Pradesh, many were surprised. 

Six-time MLA from Uttar Pradesh, Chauhan was relatively unknown in Bihar. By virtue of being the governor of Bihar, he also became the chancellor of several universities in the state and many mocked him for holding those positions as he is known to have studied only till Class 7.

For the BJP, however, Chauhan’s Nonia caste was a big ‘qualification’ to consider him for the job.

There are over 150 ‘extremely backward castes’ in Bihar, and they account for around 29 per cent of the population. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar made the EBCs his vote bank by giving them reservation in panchayat and local bodies in 2006. 

Since 2005, the BJP has been making efforts to woo the EBCs and has held several caste meetings for them in the past. The efforts proved to be successful as a large section of the EBCs voted for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, helping the NDA win 31 of the 40 seats.

The tables, however, turned on the BJP in the 2015 assembly elections when a substantial section of the EBCs voted for the Grand Alliance of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav and the Congress, leading to a humiliating defeat for the BJP and its allies.

The EBCs were so important for Kumar that even after joining hands with the BJP, he ensured that the BJP’s access to them remains difficult. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the seat distribution was done in such a way that Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) managed to field five EBC candidates, while BJP only two — and all seven of them won.

The BJP, however, found a way to appease the EBCs by making Chauhan the governor who assumed office on 29 July, 2019. 

“The BJP does not want to rely on Nitish Kumar for EBC votes in the 2020 assembly polls,” said a senior state BJP leader, who did not wish to be named.

“It is well known that Governor Chauhan has become an icon among his caste. This was evident from the fact that people belonging to his caste from across the state came to felicitate him (at the 27 August event). There is a sense of pride among his caste that he has achieved the post of governor. There is no impropriety in taking advantage of his appointment,” the leader added.

JD(U) stand on Chauhan

Chauhan’s appointment has been met with silence by the JD(U). 

In 2015, when Narendra Modi and Kumar were political adversaries, the PM had made Ram Nath Kovind (now President) the governor of Bihar. The PM had mentioned in his public rallies in Bihar that he had made a Dalit the governor of the state, drawing criticism from Kumar for giving caste colour to the constitutional post.

Kumar, however, got along well with Kovind and even backed his candidature for the presidential elections in 2017 despite being a part of the Grand Alliance. The Congress-led opposition had picked Meira Kumar, also a Dalit, as the presidential candidate against Kovind. 

“But this time Nitish had to quietly accept the caste of the governor and the BJP is all out to cash on it,” said a JD(U) minister, who did not wish to be named.


Also read: Caste to be kept out of Modi govt’s pilot Socio-Economic Caste Census this year


 

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