Bihar proves Indian voters see only caste and religion: Justice Katju


Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

Justice Markandey Katju

The Bihar state Assembly elections are over, and despite all the opinion poll predictions, and despite the huge rallies of Tejaswi Yadav in which he emphasized massive unemployment in Bihar and Biharis migrating to other states in search of jobs, the NDA won a clear majority.

This makes it evident that in Bihar, as also in most other Indian states, voters are not concerned when they go to vote about issues such as poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, healthcare, rising prices, corruption, etc but only caste and religion.

The NDA had the solid support of the upper caste Hindus in Bihar (about 16% ) and even a large section of the non-Yadav OBCs.

The total OBCs are about 52% of the population in Bihar, but Yadavs, who supported the RJD, are only about 12%.

The non-Yadav OBCs have a grievance that under a Yadav Chief Minister the plum postings of officials e.g. Collectors, police station officers ( darogas ) etc usually go to Yadavs, while non-Yadav OBCs are often ignored. Also, Owais’s AIMIM ( which won 5 seats, and made a dent in others ) split the Muslim vote which would have ordinarily all gone to RJD, thus benefiting the NDA.

My prediction is that in forthcoming West Bengal elections ( likely to be held in April-May 2021 ), too, the BJP will win a majority. In West Bengal caste is not of much importance, but in recent years religion has become important. The state was earlier a bastion of secularism, with both the major parties, the Congress and the CPM being secular, but in recent years the state has become largely polarised on religious lines.

The blame for this must go largely to Chief Minister Mamata Banerji.

Since over 27% of the population of the state is Muslim, Mamata thought that she must secure this vote bank, and for this purpose took steps which greatly offended the 70.5% Hindu population in West Bengal, e.g. (1) In April 2012 she announced a grant of Rs 2500 p.m. to every imam and Rs 1500 to every muezzin in mosques ( and there are thousands of them in West Bengal ).

This order was struck down by the Calcutta High Court as being discriminatory. (2) In October 2016 she passed an order prohibiting Durga puja idol immersion after 4 p.m. on 12th October, since the next day, October 13th, was Muharram. This too was annulled by the High Court, with strictures against the state govt. (3) She took out rallies against NRC and CAA in Kolkata, which annoyed Hindus, who thought these laws are necessary to prevent the inflow of Bangladeshi Muslims into West Bengal.

All these steps created an impression among Bengali Hindus that Mamata only cares for Muslims, and ignores Hindus, although Hindus constitute over 70% of the state population.

The result has been that Bengali Hindus, who were earlier secular, are today largely polarised, and will vote in favor of BJP.

This becomes evident from the fact that whereas in the 2016 West Bengal state election the BJP had won only 3 out of the 294 seats, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections it got 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from West Bengal. This, coupled with the fact that Owaisi will again split the Muslim votes ( as he succeeded in doing in Bihar ) indicates that the BJP will win the forthcoming state election in West Bengal.