Skip to main content

Move to blunt opposition's caste-based census card? Bharat Ratna to Karpuri Thakur

By Prem Singh* 

On the occasion of the birth centenary of Karpoori Thakur (24 January 1924–17 February 1988), several programs have been organized at different parts of the country from January 2023 till now. But the coverage of those programs in the mainstream media was negligible. Information about those programs was available only on social media.
Articles and comments discussing Karpoori Thakur's personality, politics and ideology were also published on social media and in a few small magazines. As soon as the BJP-led NDA government announced the award of Bharat Ratna posthumously to Karpoori Thakur, he became the subject of discussion in the mainstream media as a 'socialist icon'.
Particularly English newspapers published the news reports, articles and editorials about him with great enthusiasm. The reactions of many leaders and parties on this sudden decision of the government also became a subject of the media. In all this, the government's “politics” behind the decision to award Bharat Ratna to Thakur was also mentioned and discussed. It was said that the government has used Bharat Ratna to blunt the opposition's caste-based census card.
That is, the feat of immersing mandal into brimming kamandal with the construction and inauguration of Ram Temple has been accomplished by awarding Bharat Ratna to Thakur! The RSS/BJP has tried to prove through this award that there is no conflict between ‘Hindutva’ and social justice. By conferring the same award on LK Advani is in line with its well thought out plan.
However, it is worth noting that the central government did not commemorate Karpoori Thakur in Bihar or any other state during the entire birth centenary year, which ends on 24 January 2024. Despite being awarded the Bharat Ratna, it does not seem that the government will have any serious concern with Karpoori Thakur even in future. Actually, this is just an election maneuver of the government.
The politics of Bharat Ratna has also engulfed the Grand Alliance government of Bihar. There was a tussle between the claimants to the inheritance of Thakur. Nitish Kumar, an 'engineer' of Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs), while commenting on the award, took a dig at RJD's dynastic politics by saying that Thakur never did dynastic politics. He, in fact, declared himself the real heir of Thakur by saying that he himself too never took his family forward in politics.
In order to further strengthen his claim he also stated that he made Thakur's son Ramnath Thakur a member of the Rajya Sabha, who always follows him. He also conveyed a message to the BJP that he alone has the patent on EBC votes in Bihar. That is, the benefit of giving Bharat Ratna to Thakur passes through the corridor of his rightful heir!
There was a tussle going on between JDU and RJD for some time. Apart from this, Nitish was upset that despite being a “tallest leader” in the opposition camp, the India alliance did not declare him as the prime ministerial candidate. He was not even made the president of the alliance. Even before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he expected that the Congress would go ahead accepting him as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the combined opposition.
When this did not happen, he left the Grand Alliance and went back with the BJP. He again returned to BJP-led NDA, picking up the bale of legacy of Thakur. The interesting thing is that Thakur, who suddenly came into limelight after the announcement of Bharat Ratna, has been ostracized, and Nitish Kumar has gained the centre-stage. 
Editorials and articles in newspapers are now throwing light on mandal-kamandal politics and its various variations. Thakur and his persona, politics and ideology are no more topics of interest. Political analysts seem to have accepted that the future of social justice politics lies not with the socialist ideology of Thakur, but with the politics of ‘Hindutva’, which carries their cherished agenda of “development” and “good governance”.
In such a situation, it would be appropriate to ask the question whether the Bharat-Ratna, that came out of the womb of power-greedy politics of communalism, casteism, individualism and vanshvad (dynasty rule) while sitting in the lap of corporate houses, to Thakur enhances his honor or diminishes his dignity posthumously. In fact, this episode once again explains that in the era of corporate-communal nexus in politics the national icons are being humiliated by being used in undignified power-politics.
A little discussion of Thakur, the politician, would not be out of place here. He has been a leader of great versatility. As much as he was involved in politics and socialist ideology, he was equally learned in literature, art and culture. People in academia and literature often noted that he always used to travel with a heavy bag of books. He had his own ideological and political training in socialist thoughts and movement.
However, he used to imbibe all the transformative ideas coming from various sources including the ideas of Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar. He had a deep commitment towards basic modern values like democracy, secularism, civil liberties and human rights. 
 His simplicity and his insistence on not taking the slightest advantage of his political position for the benefit of his family and friends was a clear indication of his link with the Gandhian-Socialist stream. Thakur belonged to an extremely backward and small in numbers the barber caste. Despite such a background, he could develop an independent political personality of himself.
Thakur was actually a child of the freedom movement and the socialist movement. He started his political innings by leaving college and participating in the Quit India Movement. He was elected member of Bihar Legislative Assembly in 1952 elections. From then till his death, he always won the assembly elections continuously.
He won the Lok Sabha election from Samastipur in 1977. In his entire political career, he lost only the 1984 Lok Sabha elections. He played the role of Leader of Opposition in Bihar Assembly for a long time. He became the Chief Minister of Bihar twice – from 22 December 1970 to 2 June 1971, and from 24 June 1977 to 21 April 1979. He had a deep knowledge of parliamentary rules and processes, and was sincerely adhered to them.
He had made a provision of 8, 12, 3, 3 percent reservation for extremely backward classes, other backward classes, women and economically poor of general category respectively. This is known as Karpoori Formula, for which he had to face even abusive language from people with upper caste feudal mindset, especially the Jan Sangh cadres.
Never in his life did he resort to communal casteism and casteist identityism. He emerged as a leader of the people, not a leader of any caste
Not only did southern leader Devraj Urs take a dig at Thakur's reservation policy, it also became a subject of controversy among socialists. Some people say that the provision of sub-quota within the quota had the consent and inspiration of JP, whereas some hold the opposite opinion. Both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, who claim to be Thakur's heirs, have proven to be leaders who only settle the electoral calculations of castes. They have not been moved by Thakur's commitment to socialism and social harmony.
Being a committed socialist, he always tried to bring the marginalized groups forward, but considered himself mainly as a representative of the people of Bihar. Many obstacles came in his way, not to forget his 'low' caste, but he overcame them all with his political and ideological commitment. 
Never in his life did he resort to communal casteism and casteist 'identityism'. He emerged as a leader of the people -- jannayak, not a leader of any caste. This particular merit of his personality can be viewed through a poem titled 'Bheed Se Ghira Adami’ (A man surrounded by the crowds) by Jabir Husain.
This poem, the best among many poems written on him, shows that the personality of Thakur was not bound by region, caste and religion. He used to call himself a casteless person. Even his commitment to the country was only that it should be freed from colonial subjugation so that a society of equality can be established by transforming the multi-layered feudal-hegemonic system. The poem also suggests that his personality is not meant to evoke worship but to be an inspiration for struggle. During the freedom struggle Karpoori Thakur himself composed a famous poem titled 'Hum Soe Watan Ko Jagane Chale Hain' (We walk to stir the nation awake):
"We walk to stir the nation awake/ breathe life into the dead
to through the gauntlet at the powerful
who ignore the helpless ill-fed
don’t push us further o tyrant
lest we burn it all to ground
unbent, headlong we rush
to raise the listless from the ground
we walk to stir the nation awake."
This poem also suggests that he was a leader of the underprivileged-exploited masses with a deep ideological understanding.
Dr. Lohia’s thesis, “Class is mobile caste. Caste is immobile class”, is about Thakur's understanding of caste and class question at a practical level. When the leaders who openly play dynasty politics in a feudal style claim themselves as the heirs of the legacy of Thakur, they simply devalue him. Lohia's offer to bring Dalits, Adivasis, backward castes, women and poor Muslims ahead in politics was an epoch-making idea to transform the socio-economic-political-cultural structures of the country forever.
Lohia hoped for de-brahmanization and de-colonization of the minds of these marginalized communities because this 'mind' had been largely free from the clutches of old brahmanical and the new colonial value systems. In this way, that 'mind' could have been a permanent deterrent to communal fascism and capitalist imperialism. But this idea of Lohia, full of possibilities of epoch-changing, was turned into a blatant casteism by the leaders playing politics of social justice. They, in fact, put the same in the service of communal fascism and capitalist imperialism.
Among the Backward/Dalit leaders, Thakur was the only one who fulfilled Lohia's hope through his political work. This is the most important dimension of his relevance today. It is to be hoped that this dimension of his relevance will not be allowed to disappear in the politics of Bharat Ratna.
*Associated with socialist movement, is former teacher of Delhi University and former fellow of Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla



'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site The article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Don't agree on domestic subsidies, ensure food security at WTO meet: Farmer leaders

Counterview Desk  The Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers Movements (ICCFM), a top network of farmers’ organizations in India, in a letter to Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce and Industry, has asked him to “safeguard food security and sovereignty, even as ensuring peasants' rights" at the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO MC 13), to take place from 26 to 29 February 2024 in Abu Dhabi.

Students, lawyers, professors detained in Delhi for demonstrating in support of farmers

By Our Representative  About 25 protestors, belonging to the civil rights network, Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), a coalition of over 40 organisations, were detained at Jantar Mantar for holding a demonstration in support of the farmers' stir on Friday. Those detained included students, lawyers and professors, including Prof Nandita Narain and Prof N Sachin. 

Sharp 61-85% fall in Tech startup funding in India's top 'business-friendly' States

By Rajiv Shah Funding in Tech startups in top business-friendly Indian states has witnessed a major fall, a data intelligence platform for private market research has said in a series of reports it has released this month. Analysing Tech startup data of Telangana, Maharashtra, Delhi NCR, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala, Tracxn Technologies Ltd , the Bengaluru-based research firm, finds that except for Kerala, funding witnessed a fall of anywhere between 61% and 85%.

Solar energy funding dips 9% in 2023; 2024 'kicks off' with US$1 billion investment

By Lakshmitha Raj*  Solar energy tech companies have already secured slightly over US$1 billion in funding in 2024 (till Feb 7, 2024) after total funding into Solar Energy companies in India fell 9% to US$1.55B in 2023 from US$1.7B in 2022. A total of 39 $100M+ rounds have been closed till date, with Delhi leading the city-wise funding, followed by Gurugram and Mumbai.

Maize, bajra, jute, banana cultivation banned off West Bengal border: Plea to NHRC

Counterview Desk  West Bengal-based human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Manch, and is national convenor of the Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission, second within few days, has bought to light one more case of trespassing and destruction of a fertile banana plantation by BSF personnel along the Indo-Bangladesh border, stating, despite a written complaint to the police has taken "no initiative".

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

India second best place to invest, next to UAE, yet there is 'lacks support' for IT services

By Sreevas Sahasranamam, Aileen Ionescu-Somers*  The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the best place in the world to start a new business, according to the latest annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey. The Arab nation is number one for the third year in a row thanks to a big push by the government into cutting-edge technology in its efforts to diversify away from oil.

Mahanadi delta: Aggressive construction in flood plains, reduced fish stock, pollution

By Sudhansu R Das  Frequent natural calamities, unemployment, low farmers’ income, increase in crime rate and lack of quality human resources to strike a balance between growth and environment etc. continue to haunt the state. The state should delve into the root causes of poverty, unemployment and natural calamities.