Socialist icon Karpoori Thakur awarded Bharat Ratna, a day before centenary

The Bharat Ratna to Thakur could not just help the BJP counter the effects of the caste survey in Bihar but also the repeated Congress demand that a nationwide caste census be undertaken.

January 23, 2024 09:05 pm | Updated 11:38 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Karpoori Thakur.

Karpoori Thakur. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

A day before the centenary celebrations of former Bihar Chief Minister and socialist leader Karpoori Thakur, President Droupadi Murmu on January 23 announced that the late socialist leader will be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award.

“The President has been pleased to award Bharat Ratna to Shri Karpoori Thakur (posthumously),” a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on X that “this prestigious recognition is a testament to his enduring efforts as a champion for the marginalised and a stalwart of equality and justice”.

Son of a marginal farmer from the Nai (barber) community, the socialist icon went on to serve twice as Chief Minister of Bihar — first between December 1970 and June 1971 as part of the Bharatiya Kranti Dal and later between December 1977 and April 1979 from the Janata Party.

Named Jannayak, or People’s Leader, Thakur was a freedom fighter, incarcerated during the Quit India movement in 1942, and has been seen as the architect of much of the social justice plank in Indian politics. He was part of the anti-Emergency movement, along with another great socialist leader, Jayaprakash Narayan.

During Thakur’s Chief Ministership in 1977, the Mungeri Lal Commission submitted its report recommending that backward classes be reclassified as extremely backward classes (including weaker sections of Muslims) and backward classes. The report was implemented in 1978. This paved the way for 26% reservation for them in the government services in Bihar in November 1978.

This reclassification was also seen as a percussor of the Mandal Commission report that recommended 27% reservations for Other Backward Classes, implemented in the 1990s and changing the face of Indian politics forever, spawning parties like the Janata Dal (U), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Lalu Prasad and the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by late Mulayam Singh Yadav.

More immediately, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar used the “Karpoori Thakur formula” to classify backward classes into two categories to establish himself as the leader of EBCs to counter friend-turned-foe-turned-ally Lalu Prasad. He used the same idea to create Mahadalits to counter former Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s influence.

The Bharat Ratna to Thakur, therefore, could not just help the BJP counter the effects of the caste survey in Bihar done by the coalition government of the JD(U) and the RJD that showed that EBCs classified using the “Karpoori Thakur formula” was the largest section of population in the State but also the Congress’s repeated demands that a nationwide caste census be undertaken.

Nitish, Bihar BJP welcome the honour

In Patna, Mr. Kumar expressed happiness over the Bharat Ratna to Thakur, saying it’s been a longtime demand of the JD(U). He also thanked the Prime Minister for bestowing this honour on the late freedom fighter.

The Bihar BJP thanked PM Modi for honouring Thakur. “It is an honour for Bihar,” State BJP leader Bhim Singh said. The party’s Rajya Sabha member Sushil Modi said, “PM Modi is fulfilling the dreams of Karooori Thakur.”

With inputs from our Bihar correspondent

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