An unfinished task of social justice politics

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An unfinished task of social justice politics

Monday, 05 June 2023 | KC Tyagi | Pankaj Chaurasia

An unfinished task of social justice politics

Caste inequality and caste census must be considered in policy discourse; caste inequality is a reality of Indian society that cannot be ignored

On June 12 in Patna, CM Nitish Kumar will meet with regional opposition parties from across the nation. Nitish Kumar has extended an invitation to all regional and Congress parties to unite for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh confirmed that the Congress will join this opposition unity party. Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi may also be in the presence. In this meeting, regional parties engaged in social justice politics in the country, which are regarded as having a strong influence in their respective states, and which have long demanded an increase in the reservation, a caste census, etc., are expected to attend.

 In light of the recent victory of the Congress in Karnataka based on its commitment to the promotion of social justice, it is unsurprising that these issues will be brought up again in this meeting. Moreover, the recent victory of the Congress in Karnataka proves that these concerns will play a significant role in the upcoming national poll. Is about to engage in conflict. The Congress has received 43% of the vote in the state, its greatest percentage since the 1989 assembly elections. Comparing 2018 to 2019, BJP lost only 0.2% of the vote, so Karnataka's victory has cost BJP, but its Most Backward Caste's vote bank remains with it, making the Loksabha 2024 election difficult for Congress without the assistance of the regional parties. If the Congress wishes to win the election, it must unite with the regional parties of the country and campaign on their social justice politics.

In addition, Congress and regional parties should ensure the participation of the most backward castes so that they can trust the opposition parties and make a strategy to fight the elections with local issues. The people of Karnataka have taught the BJP what they need to know by defeating them and have given Congress a resounding mandate by favouring social justice politics. The promise that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi made in Kolar, "JitniAabadi, Utna Haq," must be maintained until the elections. If Congress wishes to win the elections, it should not evade the topics discussed at the opposition Ekta Dal meeting convened by Nitish Kumar. In addition to the opposition parties Congress, TMC, NCP, RJD, and Shiv Sena, many other opposition parties have accused the central government of misusing the ED, CBI, and other central investigative agencies for several years.

The regional parties will retain these issues to surround and defeat the BJP at the national level. In the Karnataka elections, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi campaigned for social justice in hopes of completely changing the party's image. This initiative did not begin with this election; rather, the Congress Party laid the groundwork for it during the 85th session of the Congress in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. This is why there were hints that the Congress would be shedding its previous image and debuting a fresh one. After a court in Surat found Rahul Gandhi guilty of disrespecting OBCs and disqualified him from the Lok Sabha for his "Modi surname" comment, the issue got even more attention. Rahul Gandhi reiterates the call for caste census & proportionate reservation “Jitni Abadi Utna Haq”.

 It indicates an identity group should get promotions proportional to their population share. The huge discrepancy in caste representation in professional success is not due to chance. In empirical terms, caste stands out as the most statistically significant factor that determines professional success within Indian society. After 30 years of implementation of the Mandal Commission, once again the discussion of social justice is gaining momentum in national politics, and this discussion is moving forward with the caste census in its new form. Bihar's CM, Nitish Kumar, has emerged as its major leader. The chief ministers of more than a dozen states in the country started demanding a caste-based census. The Patna High Court on May 4 stayed the caste-based census in its interim order while hearing a petition challenging and seeking an interim stay on the caste survey in Bihar. Despite this, the caste-based census has brought the entire opposition on one platform and has worked to increase the discourse on the politics of social justice for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Caste inequality is a reality of Indian society that cannot be ignored even presently; therefore, why are caste inequality and caste census not considered in policy discourse? Since the year 1931, the Government of India has been continuously conducting the caste census of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes then what is the reason that the government is nervous about counting the rest of the castes? Perhaps the main reason for this is that the OBC community is not homogeneous, nor is politics dominated by people from these oppressed caste groups. Many castes in the OBCs, like Nishad, Bind, Mallah, Kewat, Kashyap, Bhar, Dhivar, Batham, Machua, Prajapati, Rajbhar, Kahar, Pottar, Dhimar, Manjhi, Barai, Lohar, and so on, have been victims of social injustice for a long time. This is the reason why these castes began voting for the BJP for their representation; if these castes are given appropriate representation, they will depart from the BJP and vote for opposition parties. The only Dalit member of the Mandal Commission, L. R. Naik, gave a dissenting note to divide the OBC reservation into two equal parts. L. R. Naik believed that within the OBCs there is an agricultural class, and another is the artisans’ class that earns their livelihood from handicrafts, craftsmen, and horticulture. These castes are mostly landless, and after globalization in the 1990s, markets and technology have taken away their livelihood options, making their economic and educational status worse than Dalit castes. Special opportunities should be provided for the economic and educational upliftment of these classes. The Mandal Commission report was implemented, and its benefits were given to the agricultural castes, but not to the artisans and horticulture castes. Therefore, it is necessary to identify the needs of the most backward castes at the national level so that they can rely on opposition parties.

Before starting the neo-social justice mission, Congress and other regional parties should first understand the problem of OBCs and consider the question of proportional representation for most backward castes along with the caste census. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has identified the politics of social justice for OBCs in the Karnataka elections, but Congress and regional parties could not grasp what was required of most backward castes in 2023, which remain the main voter base of the BJP. If regional parties and Congress parties contemplate proportional representation of these most backward castes and caste census, Congress may gain a wider lead in the next Lok Sabha election. American philosopher John Rawls says about justice that justice for one may not be justice for someone else. So, political parties should make sure that all castes are properly represented in terms of social justice and their growth so that everyone can grow.

(KC Tyagi is ex-MP and Chaurasia is a research fellow at Jamia Millia Islamia University)

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