Bihar Caste Survey: Muslim Groups among Backwards the New Bone of Contention

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Santosh Singh

PATNA – In a fact that is being used by both BJP and Muslim leaders to bolster their case, 10% of the backward classes identified in the recently released Bihar caste survey report belong to the minority community.

Certain Muslim groups have been recognised as EBC (extremely backward class category within OBCs) ever since the Karpoori Thakur government implemented recommendations of the Mungeri Lal Commission in 1978, and introduced a separate quota for EBCs.

The BJP has accused the Nitish Kumar government of “creating an optical illusion” and taking the EBC numbers to 36% of the population. Meanwhile, former JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP and head of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz Ali Anwar Ansari says that the new EBC numbers show that there are a significant amount of backward Muslims. EBCs have been a category politically nurtured by Nitish, whose own community Kurmi forms barely 3% of the state. But the Nitish government has tried to downplay the presence of 10% Muslims among the OBC numbers.Ansari told The Indian Express: “The Bihar caste survey has proved what we have been saying all along. Though Muslims were counted along caste lines till the 1931 Census, and were also mentioned as such in the Mandal Commission report, politics has been played by showing Muslims as a bloc. Caste is as much a reality among Muslims as among Hindus.” A pushback that is too hard can also backfire on the BJP as the backward Pasmanda Muslims have been identified as a vote bank by the party, with Narendra Modi himself making the outreach to them.

While two Muslim groups – the Nalbands and Maliks – are identified as OBCs in the state, 24 are listed under EBCs. Of the latter, Momon or Julaha or Ansari form the biggest chunk, 3.54% of the population. Together, the Muslim OBC groups form over 10% of the population, much higher than the upper caste Muslims, who are at a combined 4%. On Friday, in a boost to the Nitish Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan government, the Supreme Court refused to stay publication of the caste survey report.

The Karpoori Thakur government had put aside a 12% quota in state government jobs for EBCs, 8% for OBCs, and 3% each to women and the disadvantaged among the general category.

Now, as Ansari says, there might be a push in the state to look at Muslims in terms of their economic status rather than as one religious bloc – with Bihar CM Nitish expected to focus on Pasmanda Muslims. At 17.7% of the total, Muslim numbers as a bloc are higher than the largest single group in the state, which are Yadavs at 14.4%. Both, incidentally, form the bulk of Nitish’s ally RJD votes. Says Ansari: “I have been waging almost a lone battle for Pasmanda Muslims for the last 25 years. It is true that Nitish Kumar made me a Rajya Sabha MP twice, and that a few other Pasmanda Muslims were acknowledged, but Muslim EBCs have been largely ignored. Now we hope for policies and programmes devoted to this section… There should be a Pasamanda cell in the Minority Welfare Department of the state government.”

JD(U) advisor and chief national spokesperson K C Tyagi attacks the BJP for its criticism of the Bihar caste survey. “What the Bihar survey says about EBC and OBC Muslims is a continuation of the Mandal Commission’s findings. The BJP is wary of larger EBC Muslim numbers because it would not be able to do politics on lines of religious polarisation. Whether it is Hindu EBC or Muslim EBC, their social and economic conditions need to be addressed.” Ansari says that the BJP’s allegation of a soaring Muslim population also stands exposed, as while their numbers were put at over 14% of the population in 1931, nearly a century later, they make up only 17%-plus.

A BJP leader, who refused to be identified, said: “Categorising Muslims along caste lines only suits the socialists and the Congress.”

About Modi’s push for Pasmanda Muslims, with an open call at a party meeting in July 2022, the leader said: “The Bihar BJP may not try wooing the community. In combination with Nitish, we had attempted it, but now we will keep our focus on Hindu EBCs.”

C-Indian Express

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