Thursday, August 26, 2010


As the report compiled by Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal a decade ago, on ways and means to improve the lot of the backward castes and classes continues to rock the country, few, if any, remember the other contributions of the one-time Chief Minister of Bihar to the state and country.
Here, his grandson Suraj Yadav profiles his crusading grandfather and the compulsions which drove him to become a champion of the downtrodden.
For nearly ten years two successive Congress governments sat over the Second Backward Classes commission report submitted under the chairmanship of B.P. Mandal, and the intelligentsia, the press, the champions of merit and others conveniently closed their eyes to its existence obviously thinking that the report would be consigned to the dustbin, just as the First Backward Classes Commission report had been. Though nearly all the major political parties had its implementation in their election manifestoes, it was thought to be a promise at best fit to be broken. Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s decision to implement the report, though only partially, is bold and historic. While he has only redeemed his pledge, all hell seems to have broken lose over his decision. The reaction to the partial implementation of the report by the high castes of the brahminical social order has been aggressive and violent, and it affirms their unwillingness to part with even a little bit of their monopoly over the ruling machinery of this country and to share even a small fraction of their deeply entrenched interests.
It has become a fashion to criticise the report and B P Mandal himself. While more than 90 per cent of the pseudo-intellectuals are criticising the report without having read it at all, others who criticise Mandal hardly know anything about him. Tragically, Mandal has been termed casteist, a label which anyone who knew even a little bit about him would scorn. While, I leave the report to be read by the pseudo intellectuals for them to, comment on, I would like to sketch the life of Mandal. The report itself I feel is a Bible for the backward classes of India; it is their hope of correcting the inequalities spawned by hundreds of years of upper-caste domination.
Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal was born on August 25, 1919, at Banaras. He was the youngest of the three sons of Ras Behari Lal Mandal, who was among the very few zamindars in the state of Bihar at that time to launch a frontal attack against the British rulers. Ras Behari’s zamindari at Murho in the Madhopura district of Bihar (then Bhagalpur district) was not a very big one. But he showed keen interest in the freedom movement and joined the Indian National Congress at the very beginning. He was also associated with many social reform movements including mass observance of the thread ceremony (jainau) by castes hitherto denied this right. He approached the Morley-Minto committee to provide some facilities for the upliftment of the backward sections of society. The British filed more than 120 cases to harass him. However they could not break him even after having jailed him once. Ras Behari died at the young age of 51, at Banaras, in 1919.
The eldest brother of B P Mandal, Bhubneshwari Prasad Mandal was elected to the Bihar-Orissa legislative council in the first-ever elections held in the 1920s. He was later chairman of the district board at Bhagalpur. He died in 1948. His eldest son Justice Rajeshwar Prasad Mandal was the first backward class judge in the Patna high court who retired in 1980. He is currently a member of the National Integration Council. His second son Suresh Chandra Yadav was MLA from Sonebarsa, and youngest son Ramesh Chandra Yadav is a senior Advocate.
Kamleshwari Prasad, B P Mandal’s second brother, was jailed during the freedom movement and kept at the Hazaribagh Central Jail along with Jayaprakash Narayan. Later, in 1937, he was elected to the Bihar legislative council from a constituency larger than the present Lok Sabha one. He too died at a young age, in 1941.
Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal went to Darbhanga for his school education. It was here that he witnessed social ostracism for the first time, when he was made to sit separately from the rest of the class who belonged to the upper caste. Even while eating, he would have to sit separately. This, despite being economically better off than almost everyone in his class. Mandal did his intermediate from Patna College Later, he joined Presidency College Calcutta, to do his B A Honours in English. Unfortunately, due to certain unavoidable circumstances at home, he had to abandon his studies. He plunged into the national freedom movement.
Around the same time, when he attained majority in 1941, he was elected unopposed to the Bhagalpur district board which then comprised, as now, the districts of Saharsa and Madhepura. In 1952, when the first election was held under the Constitution of the Indian Republic, Mandal was elected to the Bihar legislative assembly without much effort. Though considered a back bencher in Patna the then chief minister, Dr Krishna Sinha, did not take much time in discovering the talent in the young Mandal but the latter would accept nothing less than ‘a cabinet post. Dr Sinha confided to those close to him that he would have liked to appoint Mandal as a cabinet minister but he could do so only after the elections in 1957. Unfortunately, Mandal lost the assembly election.
In 1962, though, he regained his seat. But by that time Dr Sinha was already dead. Binodanand Jha who succeeded Sinha as chief minister ignored Mandal when It came to forming the cabinet as he was supposed to have voted for K B Sahay in the 1962 contest for party leadership. However, with the Introduction of the Kamaraj Plan in 1963, Jha was ousted and K B Sahay replaced him as chief minister. Most people’ expected Mandal to be included in the cabinet, but he was ignored again.
He took this cold-shouldering in his stride and began functioning as an effective member of the assembly. However, the fateful time came in 1965 when he wanted to speak on police atrocities on the minorities and harijans in village Pama which was a part of his constituency. The chief minister asked him not to speak on the issue. It was an order from the leader of the Bihar legislature which very few would dare to disobey or ignore. Mandal said that he could not kill his conscience to remain a member of the Congress legislature party. When a number of MLAs from other parties were queuing up to join the ruling party, Mandal preferred the political wilderness. He joined the Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP) which welcomed him with open arms and he was made the chairman of the state parliamentary board of the SSP. His contribution in selection of SSP candidates for the 1967 elections and his vigorous campaigning made the party gain 69 seats— in the 1962 elections it had won a mere seven seats. The first non-Congress ministry was formed in Bihar with B P Mandal being included in the cabinet as the health minister, though he was a member of Parliament.
His impartial and firm administration as health minister annoyed some of his colleagues, and later due to some differences in the party, he formed his own party, the Soshit Dal. It was K B Sahay and Satyendra Narajn Sinha who smothered opposition within the Congress to support Mandal for the chief Ministership.
Ultimately, Mandal bacame the chief minister after the government headed by Mahamaya Prasad Sinha was voted out in the Bihar assembly in January 1960 by the combined strength of the newly created Soshit Dal and the Congress party. There was a clear-cut bias in the actions of the brahmin governor of Bihar, and the obstructions he tried to create for Mandal have become part of the constitutional history of the country. This was clearly a historical event in Bihar because it was the first time that a backward class leader had become the chief minister of the state. It was no mean achievement in the caste-ridden state where any backward class person could hardly dare to defy the caste hierarchy of the brahmlnical social order to gain a place in the ruling system. Mandal dared, and this was certainly not liked by the entrenched caste interests. Eventually, his government was pulled down and the state placed under President’s rule. However, ‘a beginning was made and later other harijan and backward class leaders did become chief ministers, including Karpoori Thakur, Bhola Paswan Shastri and Daroga Prasad Rai.
During the short period that Mandal occupied the chief minister’s chair in Bihar, he demonstrated that it Is possible to give the state a clean and efficient government if a person of integrity, ability and dedication was at the helm of affairs. He was certainly made of sterner stuff. As chief minister he received indications that some powerful leaders In the Congress party wanted to abolish the Aiyar commission set up by the previous government to probe corruption charges against the erstwhile Congress ministers. He told one of his ministers, “You inform the Congress leaders that they can even break the ministry but I will never agree to abolish the Aiyar commission.”
In posting and transfers of government employees he never allowed any extraneous consideration to influence the judgement of the government, although being a’ minority government the Soshit Dal could have been easily pressured. Favouritism, nepotism and casteism had virtually disappeared from the government as long as Mandal was the chief minister. He would often tell his ministers, “You may not hesitate to appeal to casteism to get votes but I will not tolerate any casteism in the decisions of the government” The standards laid down by him as chief minister naturally had tremendous impact on the administration.
Immediately after his government was pulled down and President’s rule clamped on the state, M S Rao, an ICS officer and then adviser to the governor, reportedly told S N Jha, an erstwhile cabinet member of the Mandal ministry: “Mr Jha, as I go through the files, I am struck by the firmness in the orders passed by B P Mandal as chief minister.” Rao’s remarks are important, because as a civil servant who served for decades in various capacities he was known for his integrity and ability. Most civil servants who had worked under Mandal held the same view.
In 1972, Mandal was again elected to the Bihar legislative assembly but resigned his seat on the call of Jayaprakah Marayan in 1974. He was elected to Parliament in 1977 as a Janata party candidate with a massive margin. Though he was expected to be given a place in the Union cabinet, Morarji Desai, the then prime minister, did not do so. He later appointed Mandal as the chairman of the Second Backward Classes Commission in 1978. Though he was expected to submit the report within a year, he took an extension of one year and submitted the report on December 31, 1980.
Mandal joined the Congress with the return of Indira Gandhi to power. One of the main reasons being that the commission, at the final stage of submitting the report, should not be scrapped. Some overtures by the government to influence the report with the offer of governorship of Jammu and Kashmir were totally ignored by Mandal. Immediately after submitting the report on December 31, Mandal got into his car and left for his village. He had the satisfaction of knowing that he had fulfilled the greatest mission of his life. Speaking on the occasion of the elevation of his constituency, Madhepura, to a district in 1981, Mandal said: “I thank god I have lived to see this day. Apart from submitting the report, this was the only commitment which I wanted fulfilled in my lifetime.”
Though just 61, he had relinquished active politics and expected no political plums for his report. He was never sure about the fate of the report, which he had meticulously and sincerely worked on. He died on April 13, 1982. at Patna. He was cremated at his village — Murho— the same evening.
As a student, I used to discuss things about the commission and other political matters whenever I was at home during holidays. My grandfather, too, would be at home after hectic touring of the country in connection with the commission’s work. He admitted that in the process of compiling the report he was becoming more aware of the plight of the backward classes throughout the country and the oppression which they had to face. It was his firm belief that the country could never become strong and prosperous until the conditions of the vast majority of the people improved. He said that apart from such commissions giving reports and their effective implementation, what was needed was a total commitment towards the cause of the downtrodden and the oppressed. This was expected not Only of politicians and bureaucrats but also of the youth of the country.
I strongly feel that instead of rendering ourselves to unnecessary criticism of the report we should address ourselves to the problems of the country. We, the youth, have a special role to play in bringing about social justice in this country and we should not be misled into shirking our responsibility in this regard.


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