PATNA: Believe it or not, there are no more dalits in Bihar after CM Nitish Kumar included Paswans (earlier called Dusadhs) into the ‘Mahadalit’ category envisaging much more benefits of government welfare schemes for this caste. Only Paswans among the scheduled castes in the state were left in the dalit category.
The Mahadalit category in Bihar now incorporates all 22 castes in SC category, also called dalits, which are recognized by the Constitution of India.
The journey of the 22 castes from dalit to Mahadalit categories in Bihar started soon after the Nitish-led NDA government assumed power in 2005 and constituted Bihar Mahadalit Vikas Mission in 2007. Nitish created a separate Mahadalit category for marginalized sections among the SC category for this purpose and barring Paswans and Chamar caste, he included 20-odd castes previously put in dalit category into the Mahadalit category.
Though Chamars later found a place in Mahadalit category in 2009-10, but Paswans remained out of it, barring this caste from numerous lucrative welfare schemes of the state government, including land for landless farmers, cycle and uniform for school students among others.
LJP chief and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan was repeatedly making the demand for inclusion of his caste in the Mahadalit category and sources claimed that things started working out with Nitish coming back to NDA in July last year. It was finally on the occasion of birth anniversary of dalit icon Dr B R Ambedkar when Nitish made the announcement in the national convention of Dalit Sena — the backbone of LJP — in Patna this month.
However, the pun on ‘missing dalits’ is merely a joke. For, as per the constitutional prescriptions, the dalits continue to be the social entity enjoying reservation in central and state government jobs, and allotment of reserved seats for them in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures for political empowerment.
In Bihar, the dalits constitute 16% of the population, but among themselves, Chamars are the largest 31.3%, followed by Paswans 30.9% and Musahars 13.9%.
Social observers claim that Paswans, per se, had been interstices of power for long. For, by the Queen’s Proclamation in 1858, the village chowkidars were to be from among the Paswans, and they had also been the violent ‘amlas’ (lathaits/watchmen) of the zamindars.
Theoretically, it was this reality of the other 20 most deprived dalit groups that moved and impelled Nitish to coin the new ‘Mahadalit’ category and put them all under it in August 2007, 21 months after coming to power in November 2005. He led the NDA government of the JD (U) and BJP, having ended the RJD-Congress rule under CM Rabri Devi.
With Chamars first and now also the Paswans included in the Mahadalit category, the clock appears to have come full circle in the last 11 years of Nitish at the helm, including the tenure of former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, who belongs to Musahar caste under the Mahadalit category, installed in the chair after the terrible loss of the JD (U) in the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Observers say by creating the Mahadalit category, Nitish had crafted social engineering. First, it was aimed at creating his personal constituency among the Mahadalits. By doing that, he had also tried to isolate both LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan from the non-Paswan dalits, and also cut through the influence of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati largely in districts bordering Uttar Pradesh.
Yet, the ire of Nitish was particularly against Paswan, though. For, during the February 2005 assembly elections, Nitish could not form his government because Paswan, with 37 MLAs, held the “key to the new government formation” in the hung assembly, and had spurned the overtures of both the JD (U) and RJD, asserting that his support would be there for sure if they chose a dalit or a Muslim as the CM
It had led to the imposition of President’s Rule, and caused heart burns in Nitish, forcing him to later create the Mahdalits. Now, with Jitan Ram Manjhi (and also Mayawati) with the RJD led by incarcerated and yet still popular Lalu Prasad, Nitish has cemented his bond with Ram Vilas by including Paswan in the Mahadalit category, hoping to strengthen his constituency.