by Apr 13, 2024Governance0 comments

Identity politics has been in the DNA of Indian politics since pre-independence years when the Muslims overwhelmingly voted for the creation of Pakistan


Bihar, so notoriously infamous for its wretched multiple social layers, divisions, sub-divisions or cleavages that the entire concept or formula of dispensing party tickets or representation according to caste, sub-caste, religion, faith or gender, called identities, could be seriously questioned.

If Bihar were the United States, the other identity groups that could claim representation or allocation of tickets would be: gays, lesbians, transgenders, atheists, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians or Natives.

But, hold on. Claims to tickets based on social identities will not stop there. The White, Brown or Black Christians would demand tickets according to their Catholic, Evangelical, Episcopal or Mormon identities.

With the political clout of American Muslims growing in Michigan, Minnesota and Washington, because of the Hamas-Israel war, they could also claim the minority status and seek special quota.

The Democratic Party in the USA and the Liberal Party in Canada are addicted to Identity politics to retain their political edge. They are now facing pushback from the minorities themselves, mainly Hispanics and Asians, because of their perception of policies on immigration, abortion and race. In all polls, Trump is leading Biden among these minorities. The minorities loathe the idea of leading parties playing politics in their name.

We could not expect that from the electorate of Bihar or India. They are invested more in coming up with new castes or sub-castes with different names. That’s the reason the list of Other Backward Castes (OBCs) got extended with a separate list of Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs). It keeps growing and since there are electoral or political special interests involved, no group or subgroup could ever be taken off the list. The leaders of post-independence India had introduced the provisions of reservation and quota only for a limited period of time.


Identity politics, therefore, has been in the DNA of Indian politics since pre-independence years when the Muslims overwhelmingly voted for the creation of Pakistan. In preparation for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, the BJP, for instance, distributed its share of tickets in Bihar and got embroiled immediately in the difficult task of satisfying the discontented groups. Out of 17 tickets allocated to it within its alliance, the NDA, the BJP gave 10 tickets to Upper Castes. And out of those 10, as many as 5 were cornered by the Rajputs only. The Upper Castes in Bihar constituted slightly above 10% of the electorate.

Except for three, all sitting MPs were re-nominated by the BJP. The sitting MPs dropped were Ashwini Chaube (Buxar), Ajay Nishad (Muzaffarpur), Rama Devi (Sheohar), and Chedi Paswan (Sasaram). The segments of the BJP voters who were immediately enraged at the denial of party renomination to Ashwini Chaube – also a senior minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi – were the Brahmins, although the replacement of Ashwini Chaube was also a Brahmin.

Secondly, women, who constituted almost half of the population, had zero representation in the list. Then, the Kushwaha segment of the Dhanuk-Koeri-Kurmi cluster of the OBCs – very heavy in number – had none. The Banias, the tradesmen believed to be the financial spine of the BJP had only one candidate. Muslims also had zero representation in the BJP list. The most hopeful Muslim BJP leader, Shahnawaz Hussain, a former minister in the cabinets of both the BJP Prime Ministers, A. B. Vajpayee and Narendra Modi, was reportedly kept out of the list of contestants to be used as a “Star Campaigner.”

As a fallout, thus, the OBCs, EBCs and others seem to be up in revolt because they see 10 out of 17 seats allocated to the Upper Castes. They don’t see, however, 7 out of 17 have still gone to non-Upper Caste categories. This is in addition to a major share of tickets awarded to members of the OBCs and EBCs in the BJP-led Alliance parties i.e., the JDU, LJP and HAM. With a few exceptions, these professed political parties of intermediary or lower castes have overwhelmingly given tickets to their own members.

The other political parties or groupings – in alliance, government or opposition – have the same problem of satisfying all segments of their supporters, their core base. All the parties, while allocating tickets, have to pay the greatest attention to the “winnability” factor. Examined closely, the following criteria would seem common to all parties that undermine the element of merit:

– The candidates have a criminal-gangster background who now masquerade as social workers/politicians commanding broad base of support largely out of fear or following their own castes. They stay personally loyal to the party state-level leaders with their money and muscle power.

– The candidates could also be from a family connected to politics, political parties or the present or past MLAs or MPs. The idea is that candidates should be familiar with the tough terrain of the electoral battle in the constituencies.

– The candidate should have broken his/her affiliation recently with the party they belonged to for the reason of denial of party tickets – i.e., the defectors.

– The candidate must bring loads of money to the party and the party leaders with whatever means–mostly through extortion in the name of donation.

To sum up, no formula could ever be devised in Bihar where claimants of all identity groups could be awarded with a party ticket. Every minor or major social group could stand up, “hold a convention,” float a leader and claim a special status. That would mean reservation in government appointments, education, promotion and other benefits.

To Bihar’s misfortune, a large chunk of the young generation of Bihar that constitutes 35% of the population – predominantly lower castes – have been fed so much on the elixir of Special Status that they have now matured into believing that reservation, quota, and other free benefits doled out by the governments are their inalienable entitlements. Their motivation to hard work with honesty has been despirited by a combination of parasitical social environment, uninspiring leadership and lack of opportunities. Those who sense this early on find ways to migrate out of their home-province.

The sad result is that this young energetic segment of the population is a vast vulnerable reservoir for criminal elements (also, in politics) to recruit from. Not surprisingly, ranks of all parties are packed with very undesirable swindler-criminal-extortionist type characters who, besides being non-performers, are first-rate courtiers and sycophants of their patron leaders in the state capital or in Delhi. They have dissolved the civil societies, scared industries or diaspora Biharis from coming in and driven sane citizens away from Bihar.

[Originally from Darbhanga, Bihar (India), Dr Binoy Shanker Prasad lives in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). He is a former UGC teacher fellow at JNU in India and a Fulbright Scholar in the USA. Author of scholarly works including a book, “Violence Against Minorities”, “Gandhi in the Age of Globalization” (a monograph) and a collection of poems”, Dr Prasad has taught at Ryerson University, Centennial College and McMaster University. He has also been the president of Hamilton based India-Canada Society (2006-08 and 2018-20)]

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