Karpoori Thakur, the socialist icon, has been awarded the Bharat Ratna

  • On January 23, the Indian government made a historic announcement: Karpoori Thakur, Bihar’s former chief minister, was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.
  • Thakur, widely known as ‘Jannayak’ or the people’s leader, leaves a legacy of long-term policy initiatives that continue to alter Bihar and the nation.

Karpoori Thakur’s Life and Career

  • Thakur, born on January 24, 1924, in Bihar, rose to become the state’s leading backward caste leader despite being a minority nai (barber) caste member.
  • Political Activism: He was an active participant in the freedom struggle, enduring imprisonment for his beliefs.
  • Thakur was an MLA from 1952 till his death in 1988, with the exception of a brief period when he was elected MP in 1977.
  • Respected Clean Image: Despite serving in public office for three decades, Thakur maintained a clean image and refrained from personal enrichment using government resources.

Landmark Policy Decisions

  • Education Reform: To make education more accessible, English was removed as a compulsory subject for matriculation tests.
  • Alcohol Prohibition: To address societal concerns caused by alcohol abuse, a prohibition on alcohol consumption was implemented.
  • Engineer Job Opportunities: Introduced preferential treatment for unemployed engineers in government contracts, resulting in the hiring of around 8,000 engineers.
  • Layered Reservation System: In June 1970, the ‘Karpoori Thakur Formula’ was implemented, offering 26% reservation, which included 12% for OBCs, 8% for economically backward OBCs, 3% for women, and 3% for economically disadvantaged higher caste persons.

Challenges and consequences

  • Immediate criticism: Thakur’s reservation policy received strong criticism, particularly from upper castes, and his administration fell as a result of its execution.
  • Despite his track record of good governance, his caste background has resulted in insulting slogans and polarisation in society.
  • Political fallout: Some saw Thakur’s choice to prioritise the reservation policy as premature, in contrast to other leaders who solidified their power before implementing comparable programmes.

Karpoori Thakur’s Enduring Legacy

  • Thakur’s legacy continues to have an impact on the current Mandal-Kamandal political environment.
  • Recognition from Leaders: Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s chief minister, hails from a small EBC minority and has been strongly identified with Thakur’s legacy.
  • Political Continuation: Thakur’s policies continue to influence the agendas of Bihar’s political parties, demonstrating the long-term impact of his commitment to social justice.
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