A day before the centenary celebrations of the late Bihar Chief Minister and socialist leader Karpoori Thakur, President Droupadi Murmu declared that he would be posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honor.
Recognition for a Champion of the Marginalized
President Murmu’s announcement was met with appreciation, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighting Thakur’s enduring efforts as a champion for the marginalized and a stalwart of equality and justice.
Karpoori Thakur: A Brief Profile
Karpoori Thakur, the son of a marginal farmer from the Nai (barber) community, served as Bihar’s Chief Minister twice. First, from December 1970 to June 1971 as part of the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, and later, from December 1977 to April 1979 from the Janata Party.
Thakur, also known as Jannayak (People’s Leader), was a freedom fighter who played a crucial role in shaping the social justice plank in Indian politics. He was actively involved in the anti-Emergency movement alongside another prominent socialist leader, Jayaprakash Narayan.
Social Justice Initiatives
During Thakur’s Chief Ministership in 1977, the Mungeri Lal Commission recommended reclassifying backward classes as extremely backward classes, leading to 26% reservation for them in Bihar’s government services in November 1978.
Impact on Indian Politics
Thakur’s reclassification of backward classes is considered a precursor to the Mandal Commission report, influencing the 27% reservations for Other Backward Classes implemented in the 1990s. This significantly shaped Indian politics and gave rise to parties like Janata Dal (U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and Samajwadi Party (SP).
Legacy in Bihar’s Politics
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar utilized the “Karpoori Thakur formula” to categorize backward classes, positioning himself as the leader of Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs). This move countered the influence of political rivals and laid the foundation for social and political changes in the state.
Political Significance of Bharat Ratna
The posthumous Bharat Ratna to Thakur holds political significance, potentially aiding the BJP in countering the effects of a caste survey in Bihar. The survey revealed that EBCs, classified using the “Karpoori Thakur formula,” constituted the largest section of the population in the state.
Expressions of Gratitude
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed joy over the Bharat Ratna, stating that it fulfills a long-time demand of the JD(U). The Bihar BJP thanked Prime Minister Modi for honoring Thakur, emphasizing its significance for the state. State BJP leader Bhim Singh and Rajya Sabha member Sushil Modi both acknowledged the honor as fulfilling the dreams of Karpoori Thakur.