Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said that the need for a caste-based census was driven by social concerns and not political ones, reported PTI.
“[Social concerns are] a reason why the demand [for caste-based census] has found resonance in many states,” he told reporters. “The reason why we have agreed to an all-party delegation is that in Bihar there is unanimity on the issue. Resolutions to the effect have been passed in the legislature unanimously twice.”
Other prominent leaders from the state, including former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav, have also supported the demand. The Bharatiya Janata Party is the only party in Bihar that does not favour a caste-based census.
On August 5, Kumar said he had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking an appointment to press for a caste-based census. This came after the Modi government told Parliament on July 20 that it had decided to not conduct a caste census.
The only caste-wise data the next census would collate would be on Dalits and Adivasis, the same as every census in independent India’s history. India’s largest caste bloc – the Other Backward Classes – would not figure in the exercise.
This triggered a fresh demand for inclusion of the Other Backward Classes, who dominate the political scenario in Bihar post the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. The commission had recommended that members of Other Backward Classes be granted reservations to 27% of jobs under the central government.
On Monday, Kumar said that his letter had reached the prime minister’s office on August 4. “I am looking forward to a response,” Kumar said.
The chief minister said that it was for the political parties to tell the Centre about their views of the matter. “It is for the Centre to decide whether to accept our contention or not,” he said. “... A fresh exercise will help in bringing the fruits of good governance to the deprived sections in a more effective manner.”
Noting that the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations has had a profound impact, Kumar said that that his government has tried to follow it up with efforts to reduce gender disparity by providing quotas for women.
He also said that if there were no alternative left, his government could consider holding a state-specific survey of castes through a census. Kumar added that the terms of the state-specific survey could be decided only by the Centre.
A countrywide exercise to count the population of all caste groups was last conducted in 1931. In 1941, data on castes was collected but not published, according to The Indian Express.
In independent India, census reports have published data noting the population of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not other caste groups.
However, several welfare programmes implemented by the central government are based on caste identities. In many parts of the country, caste plays a key role in politics.
BJP’s ally in UP also demands caste-based census
Apna Dal (Sonelal), the BJP’s ally in Uttar Pradesh, on Sunday also demanded a caste-based census to ascertain the population of each community, especially the OBCs, reported PTI. This is the second BJP ally that has demanded the caste-based census.
The party’s working president Ashish Patel also demanded a separate Union ministry for the welfare of the OBCs.
Patel, the husband of Anupriya Patel who was made a Union minister in the last Cabinet expansion, told PTI that the population of the members of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe have been calculated in all censuses post-Independence but not for the OBCs.
“As a result, there is no proper estimate of the OBC population,” he said. “Therefore, I request the government that the next census should be caste-based to ascertain the exact population of each segment, especially the OBCs.”
Apna Dal (Sonelal) has been a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance since 2014. Anupriya Patel is the daughter of the party’s founder late Sonelal Patel. Her party wield influence in around 50 Assembly seats, mostly in eastern Uttar Pradesh, according to PTI.
Uttar Pradesh will go to polls next year.