Honouring Karpoori Thakur with Bharat Ratna an 'Eyewash'? Here's What the Coveted Award Likely to Bring to BJP

The Mooknayak explains the politics of ‘Bharat Ratna’ in view of the Lok Sabha elections.
Honouring Karpoori Thakur with Bharat Ratna an 'Eyewash'? Here's What the Coveted Award Likely to Bring to BJP

New Delhi: The decision of Centre's Narendra Modi government to honour late Karpoori Thakur, the socialist icon who served twice as the chief minister of Bihar, has been welcomed by various political parties — including the principal Opposition, Congress, but many describe it “just an eyewash”.

The Mandal Army, which is struggling for social justice, constitutional rights and implementation of the Mandal Commission report in toto, said with this move, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is aiming to counter the effects of the caste survey in Bihar.

“If the BJP is really concerned about OBCs (other backward classes), its government in the Centre should immediately undertake a nationwide caste census. Otherwise, the decision is nothing but an eyewash and mere a political stunt ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections,” the outfit’s president, Anirudh Singh ‘Vidrohi’, told The Mooknayak.

The organisation is conducting a yatra (march) in Uttar Pradesh to conclude on February 17 to reach out to OBCs. It began on the birth anniversary of former Bihar Chief Minister Babu Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal — who chaired the Mandal Commission — and has traveled across Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan (the states that have a seizable population of OBC communities).

“Isn’t it an irony that the government is posthumously awarding the Bharat Ratna to the champion of social justice along with LK Advani — the man who throughout his political stint opposed the implementation of the Mandal Commission report that recommended that members of the OBC communities be granted 27% reservations in jobs in the central government and public sector undertakings, thus making the total number of reservations for SC, ST and OBC to 49.5%?" he asked.

The commission had furnished its report in 1980. The then VP Singh government had declared its intention to implement it in August 1990, leading to widespread student protests. 

Undeterred by the violent protests across North India that witnessed 200 self-immolations of which 62 died, Singh-led National Front government on August 7, 1990 declared that it would provide 27% reservations to “socially and educationally backward classes” for jobs in central services and public undertaking. Two days later, he announced its legal implementation in his Independence Day speech.

The Politics of ‘Bharat Ratna’

Prime Minister Modi announced to honor five persons with the coveted award this year. He first announced Thakur’s name. Four more names (former deputy prime minister Advani, former prime ministers Chaudhary Charan Singh, Narismaha Rao and green revolution pioneer MS Swaminathan) were later added to this list. 

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the decision to select these leaders for the award has come under scrutiny. It is also true that in politics, every step is often taken, keeping a larger benefit in mind. 

Let’s try to know what political equations the Modi government has tried to solve with this move.

Broader appeal: By honoring the people from different political backgrounds and regions, the Modi government has tried to broaden its appeal across various sections of the society. It is trying to showcase that it understands the importance of the contribution of these leaders who have played an important role in India’s development journey. Certainly, the decision has the potential to touch the hearts of voters.

Sign of generosity: Awarding Bharat Ratna to personalities belonging to different political ideologies and parties may prove to be a strategic move to establish BJP as a party that is rising above party politics.

With these announcements, the BJP will boast during the general elections’ campaign that it does not follow the politics of yours and mine in honoring the heroes of the nation, but rises above it and gives due respect to everyone. 

BJP leaders will campaign vigorously that even if those who do good for the nation are anti-BJP, they have the courage to accept their contribution. With this, the saffron party can further strengthen its agenda of nationalism.

Eye on farmers: By including Swaminathan and Chaudhary Charan Singh (stalwart peasants’ leader), the government aims at strengthening its narrative on the importance of agricultural development and food security. These issues are of vital importance to the livelihood of a large section of the Indian population.

Countering North-South divide: Modi has also attempted to thwart the prevailing  rift between North and South India. While he has addressed North India through Advani, Thakur and Singh, he has also given a big and clear message to the South through Rao and Swaminathan.

Let’s now understand the influences of the leaders:

Karpuri Thakur

State: Bihar

Lok Sabha seats: 40

Targeted group/caste: Backward Class

Backward classes form a significant part of the voters in the state. It is estimated that they constitute more than 45% of the state’s population. Jannayak Karpoori Thakur had given a new direction to social justice by advocating reservation for them for the first time in the country.

If the combined impact of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s re-entry into the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Bharat Ratna being given to Thakur is assessed, it seems that the saffron party has played an important political card to woo a large section of voters in Bihar in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Chaudhary Charan Singh

State: Uttar Pradesh

Lok Sabha seats: 80

Targeted group/caste: Jats and farmers

The Jats, although influential only in western Uttar Pradesh, are part of the larger agricultural community that accounts for a major share of the state’s electorate. Farmers, including the Jats, are an important voter base here.

PV Narasimha Rao

State: Telangana (and Andhra Pradesh due to historical association)

Lok Sabha seats: Telangana (17), Andhra Pradesh (25)

Targeted group/caste: Wide appeal across various communities

Rao’s economic reforms and leadership have appeal across the country, but their direct impact is most deeply felt in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, across communities.

His legacy may not directly impact any particular caste or community but may attract a broad spectrum of voters, which praise him for his economic reforms and good governance.

MS Swaminathan

State: All over the country, especially agricultural states like Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu.

Lok Sabha seats: In various states notable among which are Tamil Nadu (39), Punjab (13), and Haryana (10).

Targeted group/caste: Farmers and the farming community

Farmers constitute a large portion of the voters in states like Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu, although the percentage of their share varies.

The BJP is hoping that it will help it consolidate peasants in its favour. The party will be able to claim that its government is committed to improving the lives of farmers.

Lal Krishna Advani

State: His influence is all over India, because he has been a national leader in the BJP.

The decision to award him with the Bharat Ratna is expected to have a great impact on a large section of people who believe in Hindutva. This is aimed at doing away with the resentment among BJP’s old timers who feel that Advani has been ignored by Modi-Shah’s BJP.

Challenges for the Opposition

Giving the Bharat Ratna to these leaders is being seen as a master stroke, which will give double benefit to the BJP. First, the party will boast of having a liberal heart. 

Even if the Opposition may not wholeheartedly welcome the step, especially the decision to award Rao who put the Congress in great difficulties, it will at least not be able to oppose it. The Gandhi family had always been at loggerhead with Rao, but circumstances have changed in today’s politics. The grand old party is left with no option but to defend its leader.

In nutshell, the BJP has tried to kill multiple birds with one stone: through Advani, it wants to further consolidate its Hindutva constituency, while farmers have been targeted through MS Swaminathan and Chaudhary Charan Singh. 

At the same time, through Karpoori Thakur, it has made an effort to ensure OBCs, a large voter section of the country and a strong support base of the party, are further consolidated in its favour. 

BJP’s objective behind giving the Bharat Ratna to Narismha Rao is not only to strengthen the fort of the South but also to increase the embarrassment of the Congress party.

(With inputs from Pratikshit Singh)
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