Quota politics blooms

Kaukab Quadri and (top) Jitan Ram Manjhi (below)

Patna: State Congress president Kaukab Quadri has demanded reservation for Muslims and Jitan Ram Manjhi's party HAMS wants it for both Muslims and upper castes.

Quota in government jobs is going to be a major issue in Bihar politics in the run-up to elections.

"Muslims are citizens of India and there is acute poverty in the community," Kaukab said on Wednesday, demanding quota in jobs for poor Muslims. "The poor in the upper caste cannot be ignored," said HAMS leader Mahachandar Singh.

A week ago, his party chief, Manjhi, had seconded LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan's demand for upper caste quota.

The Congress is seeking to revive itself in Bihar by regaining its lost vote bank of Muslims, upper castes and Dalits. These communities deserted it in the mid-1990s, making it a marginal player in a state it ruled till 1990.

Congress leaders point out that the party has to pursue vote-bank politics independent of the RJD, which has rejected demands for reservation for upper castes on the plea that the Constitution does not allow quota on the basis of poverty.

"If we keep toeing the RJD line, we will always remain a marginal player in Bihar," said a senior Congress leader, pointing out that even the Congress high command backs the demand for quota for upper castes.

"Our plan is to remain strong so that in 2019 the RJD does not dismiss us by giving us just 5-6 Lok Sabha seats."

The RJD, which is hoping for a Mandal II card in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, is concentrating on Dalit votes, which constitute 16 per cent of the population.

That is why it is attacking the BJP on the SC/ST Atrocities Prevention Act. Tejashwi even appealed to Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan not to remain with Manuwadi forces (read BJP).

"If even half of Dalit votes come to our kitty add up to our base vote of Muslims and Yadavs, we will be through," said a senior RJD leader. "If we get votes from other sections it will be like a bonus."

It is not that chief minister Nitish Kumar has not accounted for the RJD making efforts to woo Mahadalits away. In recent times, students living in hostels meant for Dalits have been given a free food and financial help has been hiked.

"We have given concrete benefits to the Dalits, instead of empty words like the RJD," said a JDU leader, expressing optimism that Dalit anger against the JDU had subsided.

The BJP is yet to take an official stand on upper caste quota though some of its prominent leaders, like Prem Kumar and Nand Kishore Yadav, have supported the move.

But the issue cropped up in the state BJP meet at Bodhgaya and BJP leaders feel the party will have to take an official stand.


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