On 3 October, while delivering a speech at Jagdalpur, in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a provocative statement in response to Bihar’s caste survey. After the Bihar government released the survey data, the previous day, many opposition parties, including the Congress, had demanded that the benefits of affirmative action be distributed among castes in proportion to their populations. Accusing the Congress, the ruling party in poll-bound Chhattisgarh, of seeking to “divide Hindus,” Modi asked whether the slogan of “jitni abadi utna haq”—rights proportional to share of population, a concept introduced in mainstream politics by the Bahujan leader Kanshi Ram—meant that the Congress wanted to do away with religious minorities. “Should the community with the largest population, the Hindus, come forward and claim all the rights?”
Later that day, speaking in Telangana—another state with an impending assembly election—Modi repeated the accusation that this principle would stab minorities in the back. He added a couple of implications. Invoking the upcoming delimitation exercise, he said that the Congress wanted to reduce the parliamentary representation of southern states, whose populations have grown at a slower rate than states in the north. Moreover, he asked, since the Tamil Nadu government had “captured” the state’s temples by taking over their administration, would the slogan of proportional rights mean that it would be taking over mosques as well?
Modi’s claims were plain nonsense, seeking to reduce the idea of proportional rights to absurdities. While he was careful not to mention the caste survey, he did not hide his abhorrence for distributing benefits on the basis of caste. Such abhorrence demonstrates his duplicity. In 2019, the Modi government amended the Constitution to grant reservations in education and employment to upper-caste families whose annual income is less than Rs 8 lakh. Modi, therefore, had no qualms in accepting caste as a criterion for affirmative action when it came to reservations for privileged castes. He did not believe that such a quota, which includes the vast majority of the upper castes while excluding the vast majority of the total population, would divide Hindus.