Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Thursday handed out appointment letters to 25,000 of the 1.2 lakh school teachers recruited by the Bihar Public Service Commission in October. Even as Kumar was giving out the letters at an event in Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, Opposition leaders alleged that the government had deprived Biharis by recruiting thousands of teachers from other states.

At the heart of the controversy is a domicile policy – or the lack of it. The Kumar government had allowed candidates from outside Bihar to take the examinations. But Bihari applicants have held protests, pointing out that Kumar’s deputy, Tejashwi Yadav, had promised when he was in the Opposition to reserve seats for local candidates.

Bihar is not alone in this nativist politics. Across India, several states now have domicile quotas for residents who have been born there or lived there for a long time. Many other states have heard demands for such a policy.

What is the controversy?

A total of 1,20,336 candidates made it to the merit list in the first phase of recruitment of teachers for primary, secondary and higher secondary schools in Bihar in October. Soon after the results were announced, candidates took to social media to criticise the government for recruiting teachers from other states.

Hashtags like #DomicileForBihari and #बिहार_मांगे_डोमिसाइल (Bihar demands domicile) were trending on Twitter over the last week.

A tweet criticising "parachute candidates" at counselling centres for recruits. "We vote, we pay taxes, how could the Bihar government give jobs to outsiders," the post reads.

The candidates also dug up older statements made by Yadav where he had advocated reserving jobs for Biharis under a domicile policy. Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal was in the Opposition at that time and Kumar was chief minister in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party. In August, Kumar severed ties with BJP and formed an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Bihar Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav's tweet in February 2020 promising an 85% job quota for Biharis under a domicile policy if his party comes to power.
Tweet criticising Yadav for not fulfilling his promise of a job quota for Biharis.

As the matter gained social media traction, the BJP and other Opposition parties took the opportunity to target the government. The saffron party claimed that only 30,000 of the new recruits were Biharis, while 40,000 were from other states. The party also claimed that 37,500 people who already have government jobs had been put on the merit list.

Rashtriya Lok Janata Dal chief Upendra Kushwaha and former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi of the Hindustani Awam Morcha have also criticised the government for not implementing a domicile policy for recruitments and “importing” candidates from other states.

Former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi tweeted a list of teachers recruited to schools in Fatehpur town of Gaya – all of whom are non-Biharis.

Manjhi also claimed that applicants from Uttar Pradesh were given priority as Kumar was planning to contest the Phulpur Lok Sabha constituency in the state neighbouring Bihar. Over the last week, there has been speculation that Kumar, who was instrumental in stitching together the INDIA bloc, could contest the Phulpur seat, currently held by the BJP.

The politics of domicile policy

Since 2020, Bihar had in place a policy that made state domicile mandatory for teachers in government-run schools. However, in June, the state government scrapped this policy, announcing that candidates from other states will also be allowed to appear for the examinations.

Education Minister Chandrashekhar had justified the rollback saying that the government has not been getting enough candidates competent enough to teach mathematics and science.

However, as anger against the recruitment of non-Biharis grew, the government was forced to firefight. The government claimed that only 12% of the recruits were from other states.

Resentment against non-Bihari candidates owes itself partially to the fact that the politics of nativist quotas has gained traction in Bihar.

In December 2020, just a month after Kumar was re-elected as chief minister of Bihar – in coalition with the BJP – he had made state domicile mandatory for teacher recruitments. In the lead up to the elections, Yadav who was leading an alliance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress and the Left parties, had promised 10 lakh jobs in the state and an employment quota for Biharis.

After Kumar managed a narrow victory in the elections, he introduced a domicile policy to counter Yadav. With the BJP now in the Opposition, it is using the public popularity of domicile quotas to attack the government on unemployment as well as drive a wedge between Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal (United).

“Nitish Kumar is giving appointment letters to show it as an achievement of the government because he knows that RJD wants to take credit for it,” BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi said on Thursday. “...Nitish ji will not be able to fulfill his promise of appointment letters to 10 lakh people even in 25 years.”

In June, after the domicile policy was overturned to allow candidates from other states in the teacher recruitment examinations, the state had witnessed widespread protests. As the protests resumed after the results, the candidates expressed their concerns that the share of recruits from other states could go up in future examinations.

Anshul Rajak, a candidate from Gaya, told Scroll that the 12% non-Biharis who made it to the merit list in the first phase of recruitment were primary school teachers.

“For Teacher Recruitment Exams for secondary and higher secondary schools, one needs to first clear the STET [State Teacher Eligibility Test],” Rajak said. “In the previous STETs, candidates from outside Bihar were not allowed, but this year they were. So, in the next phase of recruitment, candidates from outside Bihar will be in contention for secondary and higher secondary schools too.”

More than a lakh teachers are expected to be appointed in the second phase of Teacher Recruitment Exams in December.

National trend

The demand for a quota in employment on the basis of state domicile is not unique to Bihar. Amid a sluggish economy resulting in high unemployment, several other states have announced nativist quotas to guarantee jobs for locals.

Such quotas have been announced by BJP governments in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, a Congress-Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party dispensation in Maharashtra, and governments run by regional parties in Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh – which also underlines the fact that support for the policy cuts across party lines.

Many of these quotas announced by state governments are facing legal challenge. But the trend of prioritising locals for jobs could potentially snowball into a concern for Kumar. A huge number of Biharis migrate to other states for employment. If the opportunities for them outside Bihar become sparse, the demand for a Bihari domicile policy could get louder in the future.