Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav on Friday said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had insulted Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar by not granting him time to meet and discuss the need to conduct a caste-based census, reported NDTV.
On August 5, Kumar said he had written a letter to the prime minister, seeking an appointment to press for a caste-based census. This came after the Modi government told the Parliament on July 20 that it had decided to not conduct a caste census.
Other prominent leaders from Bihar, including Yadav and former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, have also supported Kumar’s demand. The Bharatiya Janata Party is the only party in Bihar that does not favour a caste-based 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.
At a press conference on Friday, Yadav pointed out that Kumar had written the letter to Modi a week ago, but has received any response from him, PTI reported.
“This is despite the fact that the people of Bihar voted for the NDA [National Democratic Alliance] overwhelmingly in the Lok Sabha polls when the BJP-led coalition won all but one of the 40 seats in the state,” said the Leader of Opposition.
Yadav claimed that he was speaking on behalf of all the parties in Bihar, though the state unit of the BJP has changed its stance on the matter.
“They [the BJP leaders] may say anything but they too had supported the resolutions [on holding the caste-based census] in the legislature,” he said. “I hope if things come to a pass and we end up sitting on a dharna, they too will join us.”
The RJD leader said that Modi has been meeting with other dignitaries but does not have the time to talk to “Kumar and a delegation of the entire leadership of Bihar Assembly on such an important issue”.
Yadav added that he has also written to Modi demanding a caste-based census. In his letter, he said that if the census is not conducted, the condition of the Other Backward Classes would not improve “educationally, socially, politically and economically”.
On Monday, the Bihar chief minister had noted that there was unanimity on the matter among the political parties in the state and that the need for a caste-based census was driven by social concerns and not political ones.
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.
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.