The slogan, "Pichde Paave Sau Mein Saath," which means that the Backwards should get a 60% share in government resources and jobs, very exquisitely encapsulates the ideology of the socialist ideologue and politician Karpoori Thakur, whose name has been announced to be awarded Bharat Ratna by the government on the occasion of his 100th Birth Anniversary on January 24.
These lines also have the underpinnings of the demand for a caste census. The Caste Survey conducted by the Bihar government, which found that 63% also vindicated Thakur's stance, advocating for the distribution of resources based on the population share of that particular caste.
The caste survey was widely hailed as a move to build on the legacy of Karpoori Thakur, who, as a politician, implemented the reforms benefiting the Other Backward Castes and the extremely backward castes. Thakur, who belonged to the Nai community, recognized that the backward community also had layers of backwardness, with some being more backward than others.
Consequently, in 1978, he implemented the recommendations of the Mungeri Lal Commission, which included reservation in jobs for the most backward and backward classes at 12% and 8%, respectively. Also, 3% for women and 3% for economically backward classes. Before this, when he became the minister of education in the Mahamaya Prasad cabinet, he did away with English as a mandatory subject at the 10th level because, due to English, many students failed.
Karpoori Thakur, widely known as the pioneer of social justice in North India, had to face a lot of opposition for his endeavors for social justice. Congress MP Rahul Gandhi said, “We need ‘real politics’ and not ‘politics of symbolism,' and that conducting a national caste census would be a ‘real’ tribute to the leader.
A proponent of social justice who remained undeterred by threats and abuses. He was also concerned about the rising cases of atrocities against Dalits. In a daring act, he decided to give arms licenses to Dalit households to keep a gun. This move was vehemently opposed by people from all sections of society, and even the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi opposed this move. Thakur had lived through caste discrimination and feudal onslaught, and this shaped his ideology. After the implementation of the recommendations of the Mungeri Lal Commission report, he had to face a lot of vitriolic attacks. The walls in Patna were scribbled with invective-laced slogans against him. However, it is essential to remember that Karpoori was undeterred in his zeal to work for the downtrodden. The slogan "Adhikar chaho toh ladna seekho, ag pag par adna seekho, jeena hai toh marna seekho," which means that one has to fight to seek one’s right, serves as a reminder of the motivation he had.
He served two terms as the 11th Chief Minister of Bihar, first from December 1970 to June 1971, and then from June 1977 to April 1979.
An epitome of simplicity, Karpoori Thakur adhered to a simple lifestyle despite becoming Chief Minister. On the day he became Chief Minister, his father was still working as a barber and was beaten by his upper-caste customer because he could not attend to him that day due to the celebration in his home. When Karpoori came to know of this incident, he did not indulge in the act of vendetta but offered to cut the hair of that arrogant feudal because his father was quite old to do so (this was told to a Bihar-based journalist by the son of Thakur).
This was despite the fact that Karpoori had his stints as the minister in the state. This incident highlights the fetters of feudalism that chained Bihari society at that time. His ancestral home in his home district of Samastipur in Bihar had the hallmarks of a poor household even when he was the Chief Minister. Once former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh inadvertently hit his head while entering the home because of the small door. He used to say that only when each person in Bihar gets a good life will he deserve to refurbish his home.
Another instance of the simple life led by him can be gauged by the fact that he did not spend money on the post-death feast of his mother but opened a school with that money instead. When Karpoori died in 1988, he had only Rs 500 in his account. Despite living an ordinary life, Thakur will be remembered for setting the tone for the politics of social justice in the country, which has been taken forward by people like Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, Kanshiram, etc. A national caste census would be a real tribute to him.