Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday accused the Congress of seeking to “divide Hindus at any cost and devastate Bharat”, betraying for the second straight day his jitters over the Bihar caste survey figures that promise a fresh lease for Mandal politics.
Without naming Rahul Gandhi, Modi attacked the position of “jitni abadi, utna haq” (rights and benefits in proportion to share of population) that the Congress leader had advocated on Monday after the Nitish Kumar government released the caste count
“Since yesterday, Congress leaders have been saying, ‘jitni abadi, utna haq’.… I was wondering what former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be thinking.
He used to say that the minorities have the first right to the country’s resources and that, too, Muslims,” Modi said at a poll rally in the tribal belt of Chhattisgarh.
“But now the Congress is saying that the population of the community will decide who will have the first right to the country’s resources.”
Modi asked whether the Congress now wanted to “decrease and remove” the rights of the minorities.
Rahul had on Monday demanded a caste census across the country and, on behalf of the Congress, pledged to disadvantaged communities a share of rights and benefits proportionate to their share of the population. The fresh push to Mandal politics that such a stand is likely to provide appears to have rattled Modi and his party.
In the 1990s, the BJP had used Hindutva — then popularly called “Kamandal politics” after the urn carried by the sadhus participating in the Ayodhya agitation — to counter the “Mandal wave” set off by the V.P. Singh government’s decision to provide 27 per cent reservation to the OBCs.
At Tuesday’s rally, Modi appeared to take a leaf out of the same playbook and resort to the Hindu card.
If the Congress wants rights and benefits to be proportional to a community’s population share, then who has the first right, he asked the crowd.
“Pehla hak kiska hoga? Abadi kiski zyada hai (Who should have the first right? Whose population is the largest)?” he asked. The crowd's answer appeared unclear.
"So, should the Hindus, who have the largest population, come forward and take all their rights?" the Prime Minister asked.
He alleged that the Congress had been “outsourced” to “anti-national” forces, virtually repeating his recent accusation in Madhya Pradesh that the party was being run by “urban Naxals”.
"Congress ko outsource kar diya gaya hai. Congress ko ab aise log chala rahe... jo desh virodhi takaton se mile hue hain (The Congress has been outsourced and is being run by people associated with anti-national forces),” he said.
"Congress kisi bhi kimat par desh ke Hinduon ko baat kar Bharat ko tabah kar dena chahti hai. Congress garibon ko baatna chahti hai (The Congress wants to divide the country's Hindus at any cost and devastate Bharat. The Congress wants to divide the poor).”
Modi accused the Congress of striking a "secret deal" with a foreign country, which he didn’t name, and warned the crowd to be cautious of the designs of the Congress and its allies.
He said that for him, the “biggest caste are the poor”, and that all his welfare schemes were aimed at instilling confidence among the poor. "Betterment of the poor will lead to betterment of the country.”
Modi said that economic criteria should decide rights and benefits, trying to counter the Opposition's demand for a nationwide caste census.
"The poor of Bharat have the first right over the country's resources, whether the poor person is a Dalit, a backward or a tribal or from the general category. For me, the poor are the biggest caste," he said. "The Congress has started speaking a new language….”
Just before the last Lok Sabha polls, the Modi government had hurriedly enacted a 10 per cent quota in government jobs and educational seats for the poor among the general category population, resorting to economic deprivation instead of the constitutionally mandated criterion of social and educational backwardness to determine the need for reservation.
The Bihar caste survey’s results — showing OBCs and EBCs together making up 63 per cent of the state's population and thus justifying a raising of the reservation volume under the “jitni abadi, utna haq” policy — can only bolster the demand for a countrywide caste census.
If such a census is carried out, the figures in Uttar Pradesh — the country's most populous and politically most important state, and a key theatre of Mandal politics in the past — are likely to be similar.
The rise of Mandal or OBC reservation politics in the 1990s had blunted the Hindutva fever kicked up by the BJP's L.K. Advani-led Ayodhya rathyatra and the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The BJP is wary of a repeat ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year.
In his second rally of the day, in Nizamabad, Telangana, Modi accused the Congress of "conspiring against south Indian states".
He suggested that the call to link benefits to population share would victimise the southern states, which had fared better in controlling population growth.
He implied the Congress was doing this because the planned delimitation would decrease the number of Lok Sabha seats in the south in comparison to the north (since it's population that will decide the number of seats).
"The Congress should clarify: does it want to do injustice to the southern states?" Modi asked.
He also played the Hindu card, emphasising that Hindu religious places in Tamil Nadu were under government control while minority religious places were not.
"In the south, temples are being looted and captured but they do not touch the places of worship of the minorities and do not take them under control of the government," Modi said.
"If the Congress is for rights based on population, will it capture all the places of worship of the minorities?"
The Uttar Pradesh-based Apna Dal, a BJP ally, on Tuesday said it supported the call for a caste census and described it as "a demand of the times", PTI reported.
"The Apna Dal supports a caste census and believes that it is a demand of the times," party chief Anupriya Patel, a junior minister in the Modi government, was quoted as saying.