Even as four phases of polling remain in Bihar, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has reiterated his comments for a review of the reservation policy, dealing a blow to the BJP’s frantic attempts at fire-fighting its impact on voters.
Two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi aserted that there will be “no review” of the reservation policy, the RSS chief said at a function in Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh) that although the Sangh is not anti-reservation, there is a need to review the policy as it does not seem to have benefitted the target population.
“After 70 years of implementation, the reservation policy needs to be reviewed. It should be seen whether the Constitutionally granted rights have actually benefitted those who need it the most,” the RSS chief is reported to have said at a function in Gorakhpur on Tuesday.
The last time the RSS chief made similar remarks in an interview to the Sangh mouthpiece Organiser , it prompted the BJP to issue a clear statement to the contrary.
Nevertheless, it presented the perfect opportunity to the Mahagatbandhan of JD(U), RJD and Congress in Bihar to launch a campaign against the BJP’s “anti-reservation” stance with Rashtriya Janata Dal President Lalu Prasad daring the Prime Minister to publicly condemn the RSS chief. Finally, a day before the first phase of polling in Bihar, the PM had to step in to assert that there was no question of the BJP reviewing the policy.
But experts on Bihar say the damage has already been done.
“Mohan Bhagwat’s comments have been a game changer for the Mahagatbandhan. They have to be seen in the context of the fact that in the absence of a market, the State is the only vehicle for social mobility in Bihar. The entry point to the State apparatus, especially for the backward classes and Dalits – two segments wooed extensively by the BJP – is the reservation policy. Any doubts about the BJP doing away with reservation is disastrous for their electoral prospects,” said Shaibal Gupta, prominent economist and former member secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute in Patna.‘Beef finds no resonance’
He said reservation was a much more of a sensitive issue than beef-eating and cow protection, which the BJP has been trying to raise in Bihar. After the RJD chief’s comments that some “Hindus too eat beef”, the BJP has been accusing him of hurting Hindu sentiments and being pro cow slaughter.
“Bihar is not a religious society. It is also adjoining the north-eastern region where beef eating is common. It doesn’t stir the kind of passion it would in UP or Maharashtra,” said Gupta.
In the past one month, public opinion and opinion polls have wavered from giving a clear edge to the BJP to favouring the Mahagatbandhan. According to Prasad, the BJP has “already lost” the elections. “The poor people of Bihar will never accept their (BJP’s) position on reservation. I will defend it even if I have to hang for it,” he had said.