Reservation: A Tool to Brainwash

by Apr 24, 2024Governance0 comments

Lalu Yadav’s Resurrection through rhetoric on reservation and OBC dominance gets a new pitch


Backwardness of the polity of Bihar is once again reflected in the resurrection of Lalu Yadav. An ailing convicted former Chief Minister of the province – who ought to have been consigned to the dustbin of history and behind bars – is handling all levers of the major Bihar regional party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), under the widely accepted leadership of his political heir son. As the party president, not only is Lalu dispensing candidacy and election symbols to whoever he deems fit, but he’s the big brother to the Indian National Congress Party and other such alliance partners as the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the most extreme Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in Bihar.

But, wait. It’s not the backwardness of Bihar politics alone, but also the law enforcement and the justice system of Bihar (or, India) that has facilitated Lalu’s fraudulent activities. Lalu Yadav was serving jail sentence (although in the comforts of a Jharkhand government guest house) and received a temporary reprieve to get out on medical grounds. While letting him out, the judicial officer should have passed a concurrent order preventing Lalu – a convict – from such public activities as participation in elections or political campaigns etc. As for Lalu, instead of keeping himself confined to his health care, he was indulging in all kinds of divisive campaigns during this 2024 election season. Claiming to be speaking on behalf of the people recently, he threatened that they would “gouge the eyes” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he were to try to amend the Indian constitution following the BJP’s enhanced majority at the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The judiciary could easily cancel his bail and send him back to jail.

Instead, Lalu is trying to stay ahead in the game. He has successfully brought back conversation on Reservation and the acquisition of political power into the hands of the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) under his leadership. As Biharis are reeling under the negative impact of the system of reservation in government jobs, contracts and education in the state for the last 30 years, Lalu is promising to his constituents extension of the limit of reservation to 75%.

As the current Lok Sabha election season is heating up, concerned citizens of Bihar or India are once again looking at the sad deteriorating state of Bihar and wondering as to what went wrong. Are there ways to effect a turn around in its fate? As a result of the last Lok Sabha election (2019), the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 39 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats from Bihar. What will another term of Prime Minister Modi at the center do to Bihar when the state suffered from paralysis at all fronts? Except for a total of six years in two phases (from 2013 to 2017 and from 2022 to 2024), the BJP was also a co-sharer of power with the JDU for nearly two decades in Bihar.

The face of Bihar could hardly change despite the same party sitting in power both at the federal and the state levels. With the help of what is known as “the double-engine-government,” Bihar couldn’t be lifted from one of the lowest ranks it had held in practically all socio-economic development measurements.


It’s worth paying attention to how Lalu’s political successor son, Tejaswi Yadav, who had once removed pictures of his father from the RJD posters during the state assembly elections in 2015, resumed hailing him not only as a leader but “the embodiment of an ideology.” Lalu’s ideology embraced every thing worst imaginable in the socio-economic or political conduct of a civilized democratic society. From sharpening division in the society along the caste and communal lines to nepotism to the adoption of all kinds of forgery to the use of arms, extortion or blackmail – all tools were there in his arsenal.

However, all the foul play of Lalu could work because he only imitated what was already happening in Bihar, albeit with lower intensity. He had seen how the upper caste leaders preceding him didn’t set up the standard parameters for aspiring politicians or leaders. Starting with his immediate predecessor, Jagannath Mishra, all of them, regardless of caste or political ideologies, were soaked so much in corruption, nepotism or in promoting the worst elements in their own castes that they became beacon of inspiration for ambitious leaders like Lalu Yadav.

With his experience as a student activist on the Patna University campus, Lalu had a clear understanding of the numerical strength of the Yadavs and the Muslims in Bihar as against the overwhelming influence of the politically dominant upper castes like the Bhumihars or the Rajputs. When he became a state-level politician of some influence, he was able to inspire his caste-members and satraps in every village or bloc that they too could usurp and retain the reins of power by replicating all the methodologies of the upper caste leaders.

If only the upper caste leaders of Bihar, as the standard bearers, had shown the honesty, vision and method of harvesting a new young leadership based on committed social service, qualification and character — no matter what caste they belonged to — the emergence of Lalu-type leadership wouldn’t have been possible. Or, even if a character like him had reared its ugly head in the Bihari society, it wouldn’t have survived for a long haul.


The principle of Reservation was accepted by the framers of the Constitution too, but that was for a very marginal section of the Indian population like Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes for a limited time and with a number of qualifiers. When, in 1960’s, Karpoori Thakur, the Bihar Socialist Chief Minister, expanded the scope of Reservation in government jobs and education to include the backward middle-lower castes, known as the OBCs, he insisted on having a provision included in the legislation that the families (meaning parents) of those who filed income tax returns and paid income tax were ineligible for Reservation. That meant there was to be a strict economic criterion to qualify for reservation. It also contained a message that once you have lifted yourselves above the poverty line for being the first-generation member of the under-privileged caste, you should give up that privilege for other deserving members of your own community. Many frontline Socialists like Hukum Deo Narain Yadav, an OBC leader, groomed under Lohia and Karpoori consistently clarified and promoted that position.

According to the Indian Socialist conviction, the system of Reservation was of course a leg up, a boost, a privilege not to be taken as an inalienable Right for generations. Constitutional experts like Ambedkar or Socialists like Lohia or Jayprakash would have absolutely rejected the shape and form of Reservation as they were adopted and carried forward.

Lalu and his brand of politicians were so successful in feeding on the collective greed of their own castes and mobilizing like-minded people that with the help of politically ambitious leaders like V. P. Singh (an upper caste Rajput leader from a former princely family), they prevented any qualifier to be incorporated in the legislation on Reservation. For Lalu, ‘Reservation’ worked as opium to the masses.

To the utter misfortune of Bihar, the upper caste leadership – the elites – didn’t frame and follow through a set of honest and tough ground rules for themselves or their successors despite help from movements like the one led by Jayprakash Narayan in the 70’s. Seated in crucial positions of social, political, educational or bureaucratic leadership, they devised and established the pattern of theft and manipulation. The patriotic, civil-honest, incorruptible citizens of Bihar who could have offered resistance were either intimidated or silenced. They realized they couldn’t win this battle of ethnic and criminal supremacy that had morphed into a kind of ideological war — the war of fanaticism, stubbornness and plunder. They figured out they could find avenues of success and excellence elsewhere. They gave up on or escaped from Bihar.

The upper caste elites should have first cleaned up their own houses, inspired and encouraged young committed honest leadership from the upcoming generations; they should have forged a joint partnership with the members of the OBCs and other social strata sharing similar thoughts, and begun working on construction of a just and moral society from the grassroots up.

Following the creation of an ideal socio-political environment of justice and fairness, emergence of a leader from any caste or social group would have been perfectly acceptable to all. Based on competence and record of performance along with honesty and integrity, once a leader was allowed to be selected, no one would ever ask the caste or social group he or she belonged to. None would be suppressed or promoted because of his/her origin, connection and status.

Then, the prophecy currently in vogue about Bihar that an upper caste member could never be the Chief Minister again wouldn’t be in circulation. Yes, if the voters of Bihar were voting strictly based on the consideration of caste, the upper caste leaders would never come up because of their numbers. But, when the parameters of selection of the best performer or deliverer aren’t just the numbers, it would be an open and fair game.

Lalu and his ideology has been successful in blinding a mammoth population into believing only in terms of castes and numbers. That’s why the political conversation in Bihar or elsewhere is always centered around castes and the number they represented. Perfecting the system or making it more productive doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. Lalu-type politics have generally brainwashed the Biharis into thinking that the key to success in democracy – and in life – is only to mob around a leader, cast in the image of a tough, mafia-gangster-extortionist-type politician, who could get things done for them. It’s convenient and more rewarding for any aspiring social-political activist too to become one of them.

Reversing this psychology would be a Himalayan task, a general election or PM Modi’s third-term could barely accomplish.

[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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